Music To Your Ears

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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When you consider your health, the first thing that comes to mind probably is not your ears. However, these vital sense organs need their share of TLC, and with these easy tips and information on common ear problems, you can keep your ears alert and healthy for years to come.

General Health
During your regular doctor visits, be sure to have your ears checked for any unknown issues. However, beyond the doctor’s office, there are many ways you can maintain your ear health on your own.

One common problem is the accumulation of excess ear wax. The build-up of ear wax can cause discomfort and ultimately lead to problems, such as an ear infection or tinnitus. You can ask your doctor to safely remove excess wax for you.

At home, you can also try using a bulb ear syringe to carefully irrigate the outer ear with luke-warm water; this may help soften wax for safe removal, but be sure to drain the water afterward (1).

Others love ear candling, or the practice of placing a specifically designed candle (hollow, cone-shaped fabric tubes soaked in beeswax or paraffin) in the ear and burning the wick. After the procedure, on the candle stub there is a brown, waxy substance left behind that some advocates argue is excess wax, bacteria and debris (2).  Some ear candling specialists believe the procedure won’t draw out wax but rather, it helps calm the individual and creates balance. There are many who argue that ear candling is ineffective and can be dangerous, while some swear by the success of the procedure. If you choose to try it, be sure to take the necessary precautions not to burn yourself or drip the wax from the candle into your ear. Or, consult a professional ear candler.

Ear Infections
A common ear ailment, especially among children, is ear infection. This painful problem often accompanies other sicknesses, such as the flu, but it can also result from issues like accumulated water in the ear. If you ever think you may have an ear infection due to pain or swelling, you should go to the doctor. As ear infections are caused by a blockage of the eustachian tubes resulting from an illness, you should always go to the doctor if you have flu-like symptoms or are running a fever. And, consult your health professional if you have any of the following: hearing loss, dizziness, redness or swelling around the ear, or discharge from the ear.

If you do have an ear infection, you can try applying a heat compress to the ear or take pain medication to reduce discomfort. You could also allow the body to fight off the infection as you would a cold through resting and drinking fluids (3). Your doctor may prescribe ear drops or an antibiotic to treat infections. If this is the case, be sure to take a probiotic to ensure digestive health.

In order to prevent ear infections, your best bet is to promote a strong immune system and try to reduce the spreading of germs. Taking such supplements as echinacea and garlic oil capsules has also been found to reduce the occurrence of ear infections (3). 

Tinnitus
Tinnitus (ringing or noise in the ear) is a symptom of an underlying condition such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory disorder (1). Since it is due to an underlying condition, it is important to discover what that issue is and to fix it if possible (3). Tinnitus can range in severity and although there is no known cure for tinnitus, there are ways to protect your ears from the condition and to reduce its effect. The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding alcohol, nicotine and loud noises, using hearing protection when necessary, managing stress as much as possible and keeping blood vessels healthy through a good diet and exercise (1).

If you are unable to fix or identify the underlying problem, other techniques can be used to help with the symptoms. A hearing aid may help if the tinnitus is resulting from hearing loss. Other aids found to help reduce tinnitus include: masking devices, biofeedback to reduce stress, Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) and cognitive therapy to help cope with the condition (3).

Often the prescription drugs given to help with tinnitus can be harsh and have negative side effects. For those who wish to try alternative medicine in conjunction with or instead of prescription drugs (with a doctor’s permission), some natural supplements have been found to help reduce tinnitus: ginkgo biloba (3–6), zinc, magnesium (3, 6), B vitamins (6), vinpocetine and black cohosh (5). These supplements are cited as increasing blood flow and reducing ringing in the ears and dizziness (4–6). Some combination homeopathic products are also specifically created to help reduce the symptoms of tinnitus (7).  WF

References
1. “Earwax Removal,” “Ear Infections,” Tinnitus,” The Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/earwax-blockage/DS00052, www.mayoclinic.com/health/ear-infections/DS00303, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tinnitus/DS00365, accessed Apr. 18, 2012.
2. “Ear Candling: Should General Practitioners Recommend It?” The Canadian Family Physician, Dec. 2007, 53(12), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231549/, accessed Apr. 18, 2012. 
3. “Ear Infections,” “Tinnitus,” WebMD, www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/default.htm, www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tinnitus-directory, accessed on Apr. 18, 2012.
4. H. Cass, User’s Guide to Herbal Remedies (Basic Health Publications, North Bergen, NJ, 2004).
5. M. Zimmerman and J. Kroner, 7-Syndrome Healing: Supplement Essentials for the Mind and Body (Square One Publishers, Garden City Park, NY, 2011).
6. “Treatment Information,” American Tinnitus Association, www.ata.org/for-patients/treatment#Alternative_Treatments, accessed Apr. 18, 2012.
7. “Ring Stop,” www.ringstop.net/, accessed Apr. 18, 2012.

 

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2012