Have you ever wondered just how your ears help you hear the world around you? When you stop to consider them, your ears really are an amazing part of the human body.
So how much do you know about your ears really? The following list will detail some surprising facts about your ears, some you’ve probably never even considered.
1. Ears are always working
Your ears never stop hearing even while you’re asleep. You can never “turn off” your ears. However, even though you are hearing while you are asleep, the brain does not process sounds in the same way as it does when you are awake. Thus, your ears will always hear and process sound regardless of your state, whether you’re conscious or unconscious, your ears never get a day off!
2. Ears help with balance
Your ears are essential for you to maintain your balance. If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you might know precisely what we mean. Vertigo is a common side effect of an inner ear infection. Your ears help with your balance due to the fluid within them. When this fluid moves, it tells your brain just what you’re up to and how to compensate in terms of your balance.
3. Ears self-clean
The earwax inside your ears is actually made up of a combination of oil, sweat and dead skin cells. Earwax forms a barrier inside your ear canal and it helps to keep your ears clean. The earwax is sticky by design so it will trap debris and particles and protect your ears. Think of your earwax as a filter between your ears and the outside world.
4. Ears have the smallest bones in the body
Your ears have the smallest bones found in the human body. Actually, there are three bones in your ear and all of them fall into this class. Technically these bones are referred to as “ossicles”. They are designed to aid with sound transmittal. These bones capture the sound from the air then relay them back to the brain. The whole process of transmitting sound is an amazing system.
5. Earlobes are constantly growing
There are only two types of earlobes, attached or detached. This is all the result of genetics. Your earlobes will never stop growing, regardless what genetics provided you with. Another interesting fact about earlobes is that scientists aren’t really sure why we have them (but some think it may be to help with blood flow). The earlobes have an amazing array of blood vessels within them that seem to support this theory.
Genes. Genes are parts of your body’s cells that store instructions for the way your body grows and works. Genes are passed from parents to children. Genes may play a role in about half of the cases of hearing loss in babies and children. If you or your partner has a family history of hearing loss, you may want to speak with a genetic counselor before getting pregnant. This is a person who is trained to help you understand about how genes, birth defects and other medical conditions run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health.
There are two kinds of genetic hearing loss:
- Syndromic. The hearing loss happens with other birth defects, such as Pendred syndrome. Pendred syndrome affects hearing, the sense of balance and the thyroid gland (a gland in your body that makes hormones).
- Non-syndromic (also called isolated or undifferentiated). This is when hearing loss is the only birth defect a baby has.
Viruses and infections during pregnancy. Having these conditions during pregnancy may cause hearing loss in your baby:
- Cytomegalovirus (also called CMV). This is a kind of herpes virus that can cause a sore throat, fever, swollen glands and fatigue (feeling tired all the time).
- Herpes. This is a large group of viruses that can cause different kinds of diseases and health problems.
- Rubella (also called German measles). This is an infection that causes mild flu-like symptoms and a rash on the skin.
- Syphilis. This is a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD) that begins with a sore in the genital area.
- Toxoplasmosis. This is an infection caused by a parasite that can cause problems like headache, fatigue or fever.
Premature birth or low birthweight. Premature birth is birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low birthweight is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
Infections after birth. Ear infections can cause temporary hearing loss. But if your baby gets ear infections often that don’t respond to treatment, the infections can cause permanent hearing loss. Other childhood infections, such as meningitis, measles or chickenpox, also can cause hearing loss.
Other conditions after birth. These conditions also can cause hearing loss:
- Head injuries
- Taking some medicines, like an antibiotic called streptomycin
- Buildup of ear wax
- Buildup of fluid behind the eardrum
- Ear infections that scar the ear drum
- Objects stuck in the ear canal, like food, toys or pieces of crayon
- Being around loud sounds, like the sounds of machines
In general terms, there are two types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. A combination of both is also seen as a mixed hearing loss. Each is discussed below.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is caused by any condition or disease that impedes the conveyance of sound in its mechanical form through the middle ear cavity to the inner ear. A conductive hearing loss can be the result of a blockage in the external ear canal or can be caused by any disorder that unfavorably effects the middle ear’s ability to transmit the mechanical energy to the stapes footplate. This results in reduction of one of the physical attributes of sound called intensity (loudness), so the energy reaching the inner ear is lower or less intense than that in the original stimulus. Therefore, more energy is needed for the individual with a conductive hearing loss to hear sound, but once it’s loud enough and the mechanical impediment is overcome, that ear works in a normal way. Generally, the cause of conductive hearing loss can be identified and treated resulting in a complete or partial improvement in hearing. Following the completion of medical treatment for cause of the conductive hearing loss, hearing aids are effective in correcting the remaining hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
The second type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. This word can be divided into its two components – sensory and neural – to allow us more clarity in specifying the type of hearing loss. The comprehensive audiometric assessment and supplemental tests can yield the information needed to differentiate between a sensory and a neural hearing loss, although they can co-exist in the same ear. Neural hearing loss is another name for retrocochlear hearing loss.
Mixed Hearing Loss
A mixed hearing loss can be thought of as a sensorineural hearing loss with a conductive component overlaying all or part of the audiometric range tested. So, in addition to some irreversible hearing loss caused by an inner ear or auditory nerve disorder, there is also a dysfunction of the middle ear mechanism that makes the hearing worse than the sensorineural loss alone. The conductive component may be amenable to medical treatment and reversal of the associated hearing loss, but the sensorineural component will most likely be permanent. Hearing aids can be beneficial for persons with a mixed hearing loss, but caution must be exercised by the hearing care professional and patient if the conductive component is due to an active ear infection.
“Is it just me or do you hear a ringing sound?!”
If you often ask this question only to get a response “It’s just you,” then you probably have tinnitus.
People who have tinnitus perceive to hear sounds such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, whistling, or hissing sounds when there is actually no sound present. Tinnitus itself is not a condition. Rather, it can be a symptom of a variety of underlying conditions such as hearing loss, head trauma, physical or emotional stress, circulation disorders, ear infections, or migraines.
It can also occur as a result of the medications you are taking. Although it may be frustrating – and in some cases impossible – to find the cause of your tinnitus, there are some things you can do to manage it.
- See your doctor and an audiologist. If you think you have tinnitus, the first thing you should do is have a medical exam to determine if an underlying condition is causing it. You should also see an audiologist for a hearing test and to get an assessment of your auditory system. Your doctor may refer to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine. These may make tinnitus worse.
- Check your medication. Talk to your pharmacist to determine if your tinnitus might be a result of a medication you are taking. Your pharmacist or doctor may suggest changing your medication.
- Use a hearing aid. This can be helpful for people who have hearing loss, as improved hearing of other sounds may cover up or lessen the tinnitus.
- Use a masking technique or device. A white noise machine can produce sounds like rain or water that will suppress tinnitus. There are also devices that can produce continuous white noise to lessen the perception of the tinnitus. You could also do this yourself by focusing on a different sound such as the fan or the radio. This is especially helpful when trying to fall asleep.
- Manage your stress. Keeping stress levels under control can prevent tinnitus from getting worse. Try deep breathing, biofeedback, yoga, or regular physical activity to reduce your stress levels.
- Remove ear wax. Impacted ear wax can cause tinnitus or may make existing tinnitus worse. Make sure you remove ear wax safely – never use a cotton swab to remove ear wax.
- Try alternative medicine. There is not much evidence for alternative therapies but they make work for you. These include acupuncture, hypnosis, herbs, and supplements. Talk to your doctor about these options.
- Avoid loud noises and music. Use ear protectors when loud noise can’t be avoided. Exposure to loud noises can cause damage to the nerves in the ears over time, making tinnitus worse.
- Join a support group or get counselling. Talking to other people who have similar experiences as you will make you feel more understood. You may also find new ways of coping with your tinnitus. A counsellor may give you techniques to deal with tinnitus as well as the anxiety, stress, and irritability that some people with tinnitus also experience.
- Medication. Some medications can help with tinnitus symptoms. Talk to your doctor to see if medication may be appropriate for you.