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Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss: Frequently Asked Questions

Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 21:06

Here are some frequently asked questions related to hearing loss.

Q: My daughter listens to loud music with headphones. Can this damage her hearing?

A: Loud music, especially listened to with earphones, can damage hearing. In some cases, the playing of musical instruments also can damage hearing. This has been reported not only with loud, electrical rock-and-roll instruments, but also with classical music performance such as violin playing and flute playing. One can minimize such problems by using ear protection whenever practical, such as during selected practice sessions. With personal portable music systems, if the person standing next to you can tell what you are listening to through earphones, the music is probably too loud.

Q: Lately, my grandfather has been saying "what?" almost every time someone speaks to him. Is this just a habit, or is it possible that he has some hearing loss?

A: Hearing loss can sneak up on people. Often family members and friends are aware of hearing problems before the hearing-impaired person. Many people in the early stages of hearing loss of this sort will find themselves asking "what?" more frequently. Other signs are offering inappropriate answers because they have misheard a conversation or question, or socializing less with others.

Q: Is it a good idea to remove wax inside the ear with cotton-tipped swabs?

A: No. The ear has a natural self-cleaning mechanism. Ear skin normally sheds from the inside out. If you place a drop of ink on the eardrum and wait a few weeks, it will turn up near the opening of the ear. The ear canal is also a shaped like a funnel, with the narrow end near the eardrum. Cotton swabs generally push wax deeper into the ear than it normally is (wax forms only in the outer segment of the ear canal), and packs it into a mass. As long as there is even a pinhole opening in the packed wax, hearing is usually good. However, when the canal is completely blocked by wax, a substantial hearing loss develops.

Q: My son had a serious ear infection recently, and as a result his eardrum ruptured. Will he need surgery?

A: Most perforations (holes) in the eardrum heal spontaneously. When one does not, it can nearly always be repaired with surgery. The procedure is usually relatively fast, and may be performed under local anesthesia.

Q: Does family history play a role in hearing loss?

A: Family history is extremely important. Hearing loss is often hereditary. When it runs in families from generation to generation, the hearing loss usually follows a hereditary pattern called "autosomal dominant." However, the absence of a family history does not mean that hearing loss is not genetic. "Autosomal recessive" inheritance is common. It means that neither parent has hearing loss, but both carry a gene that causes it. On the average, the hearing loss will be present in one child out of four.

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