FACTS FROM YOUR PHARMACIST: A Handout for Patients: Guide to Hearing Health

Yvette C. Terrie, RPh, BSPharm
Published Online: Sunday, May 1, 2005

This patient education is brought to you by Duracell and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare's Debrox

Hearing loss often is associated with growing older. Yet, 24 million people from all age groups have some degree of hearing impairment, ranging from mild to severe. Sound is measured in decibels. The degree of hearing loss can be classified in the following categories:

  • Mild (loss of up to 40 decibels)?trouble in hearing ordinary conversation
  • Moderate (loss of 40-60 decibels)?where voices must be raised to be heard
  • Severe (loss of over 60 decibels)?where people must shout to be heard

Approximately 12 of every 1000 people with hearing loss are under 18 years of age. Depending on the cause, hearing loss may be reversible or permanent. If the condition goes undiagnosed and untreated, however, it will only get progressively worse. Hearing loss also can lead to depression, social isolation, and loss of independence, especially for older people. The first step to maintaining a good quality of life is to educate yourself about hearing loss.

Causes of Hearing Loss

The most common causes of hearing loss include the following:

  • Aging
  • Earwax buildup
  • Long-term exposure to noise at work or during recreational activities
  • Diseases such as meningitis or Meniere's disease
  • Infections such as otitis media (infection of the middle ear)
  • Medications that can cause damage to hearing
  • Otosclerosis (a condition affecting the bones of the middle ear)
  • Ear malformations (misshapen or narrow ear canal)
  • Perforation of the eardrum
  • Hereditary factors These causes fall into the following 2 categories:
  • Conductive hearing loss?Sound is blocked from passing into the inner ear. Common causes of conductive hearing loss are wax blocking the ear, a perforated eardrum, or fluid in the ears.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss?Sound reaches the inner ear, but a problem in the inner ear prevents proper hearing. Common reasons for sensorineural deafness are noise exposure, age-related changes, and medications that may damage hearing.

How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

A doctor diagnoses hearing loss by looking at your medical history and conducting a physical examination. If the initial tests suggest or reveal hearing loss, you will undergo more thorough hearing tests. These tests will confirm that you have a hearing loss, find out how severe it is, and discover which part of the ear is affected.

Maintaining Hearing Health

The cause and type of hearing loss will determine which type of treatment you will receive. In some cases, hearing loss can be reversed by treating the underlying problem, such as treating an ear infection with antibiotics or removing excessive earwax. In other cases, an individual may require the assistance of a hearing aid.

Treating Earwax Buildup

Earwax buildup, which also is referred to as cerumen impaction, occurs when the earwax becomes tightly packed into the external ear canal, thus blocking it. People who wear hearing aids or who frequently wear earplugs, headsets, or earpieces are susceptible to earwax buildup. The use of these items can push earwax further into the ear canal.

Earwax buildup can be treated by using over-the-counter products such as Debrox Drops Earwax Removal Aid (from by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare). It contains 6.5% carbamide peroxide. It allows you to safely remove earwax without any irritation. It does not contain alcohol, so it will not cause drying of the ear canal. Use it twice daily for up to 4 days if needed. It should not be used, however, if you have an injury to your eardrum, fluid discharge from your ear, pain, or irritation. Debrox is safe for use by individuals 12 years of age and older.

Signs of earwax buildup include the following:

  • Feeling of fullness in the ear (feeling that the ear is blocked)
  • Decreased or dull sense of hearing, partial hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears (sometimes referred to as tinnitus)
  • Hearing aid malfunctioning
  • Itching in the ears

Using a Hearing Aid

Permanent hearing loss caused by the aging process or prolonged exposure to excessive noise typically is treated by the use of hearing aids. Recent advances in hearing aid technology have resulted in partial or, in some cases, total restoration of hearing. Unfortunately, only half of the 12 million people who have hearing aids actually wear them for at least 8 hours a day 7 days a week.

If appropriate hearing aids are chosen, if they are fitted properly, and if they are checked regularly, they can greatly improve the quality of life for those with hearing loss. They are prescribed according to the type and severity of hearing loss, how well the individual can operate them, and the condition of the ear canal. These devices work by magnifying sound. They are most effective in quiet areas, in 1-on-1 conversations, or in small-group interactions.

It is important to take care of your hearing aid in order to keep it working properly. Here are a few tips:

 
  1. Change the batteries routinely. Batteries such as Duracell with EasyTab (from The Gillette Company) are easy to use and provide dependable, longlasting power. Each battery has an extended tab that is longer than those on ordinary hearing aid batteries. The tab makes the process of removing, holding, and inserting the batteries easier, especially for people with reduced dexterity and vision. Duracell's innovative carrying case allows you to transport your batteries securely. The batteries also are color-coded to make it easier for you to locate the right battery for your hearing device.
  2. Remember to turn off the hearing aid when not in use to make the battery last longer.
  3. Clean battery contacts routinely, because dirty contacts can cause the hearing aid to malfunction.
  4. Remove earwax from your hearing aid, since wax is the number-1 reason for hearing aid malfunction.
  5. Clean your hearing aid only with the cleaning tools provided with the device.
  6. Routine use of products such as Debrox may help prevent earwax buildup, as wax buildup can affect the performance of your hearing device.
  7. Schedule a follow-up visit with your audiologist or physician on a routine basis.

Conclusion

Once you suspect that you have problems with your hearing, you should seek medical help as soon as possible. You need to get the appropriate treatment so as to reduce the risk of further damage. If you suffer from reversible hearing loss, you can preserve your hearing by wearing protective ear equipment when needed (in noisy places). You also should have routine visits with your health care provider in order to maintain good ear health.

For More Information:
www.hear-it.org
www.audiology.org(American Academy of Audiology)
www.hearingalliance.com

Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in the northern Virginia area.



Related Articles
No Result Found
Latest Issues
$auto_registration$