Hearing management

Updated 15 August 2016

Earbuds linked to ruptured eardrums

Most cases heal on their own, but that's no reason to be complacent, experts caution

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Most cases heal on their own, but that's no reason to be complacent, experts caution.

A new study has found a direct association between using earbuds to clean the ears and ruptured eardrums.

The good news is that almost all of the cases of ruptured eardrums healed without surgery, the researchers pointed out.

"In the past, many otolaryngologists have wondered if surgery is really necessary to treat a ruptured eardrum.

The results of this study show that 97 % of cases healed on their own within two months, proving that most cases do not require surgery," Dr Ilaaf Darrat, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Henry Ford Hospital and co-author of the study, said in a hospital news release.

Clean your ears 

That's no reason to get complacent about how you clean your ears, however.

More than half of the people who visit ear, throat and nose specialists confess to using swabs, tiny sticks with cotton on the ends, to clean their ears, but the practice can damage the ear if people push them in too far.

A ruptured eardrum is just one unpleasant potential outcome, because that can lead to tinnitus, and in severe cases, to vertigo and facial paralysis.

"If a patient is experiencing symptoms such as hearing loss, drainage, dizziness or abnormality in their facial movements, they should see a doctor immediately to assess the possible ear damage," Darrat said in the news release.

In the study, the researchers examined the medical records of 1,540 patients who suffered from ruptured eardrums between 2001 and 2010. They found that although most cases healed on their own, some complications - like facial nerve paralysis - required surgery.

Alternative ways of cleaning

As for alternative ways to clean your ears, study co-author Dr Michael Seidman, director of the division of otologic and neurotologic surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, recommends these methods:

  • Mix equal amounts of cool peroxide and hot tap water.
    Allow the mixture to reach body temperature and then irrigate the ear - gently - no more than twice a month.

     
  • Another idea is to mix one part plain vinegar and one part water and use four or five drops once a week.
  • Make an appointment with a doctor to have ear wax removed, or try an over-the-counter treatment to soften the ear wax so it can be flushed out.

The study findings were presented April 29 at the Combined Otolaryngological Spring Meeting in Chicago. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings should be considered preliminary.

(HealthDay News, May 2011)

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Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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