CHENNAI: Ear-related ailments have become common because of extensive use of earphones, earplugs and various sources of noise pollution around us. Dr Ravi Ramalingam of KKR ENT hospital says, “Ear surgeons operate behind the ear, which is known as the temporal bone to remove heat-related infections.” With a complex anatomy, this area has the organ of hearing, nerve for taste and facial expression and organs for palates. “This is just an area of a little more than one square centimetre and operating here needs high power magnification and specialised instruments,” he says.
How important are regular ear or hearing checkups? Noise induces hearing loss and at a later stage of damage, there is permanent loss of hearing which cannot be treated by medicine or operation. “We insist people to come for a regular check-up, once in a year to check, identify and treat infections or damage if any,” says Dr Ramalingam.
How useful are hearing aids? They only amplify the volume in the ear. Once there is severe damage, hearing aids are of no use. “Cranking up volume while using ear phones, and exposure to loud music can damage hearing. Check-up is not only for the ear, but also for the rest of ENT,” adds Ramalingam.
The most common problem we see is ear discharge, or flow of pus and water. It is common among children and adults. “The problem starts in children. There is a hole in the ear drum and infection in the bone behind the ear,” he says. It is operated by drilling a hole and removing the infection. The hole is surgically closed and hearing is reconstructed. “This condition is either due to nerve weakness or because of various other infections.”
Four out of 10 patients have ear problems from using earbuds. “Using earbuds to clean is the same as using earplugs or cotton. Imagine the skin to be as thin and delicate as toilet paper. If you rub cotton on it, what happens? It gets damaged, there’s irritation and these is ear discharge,” he says.
Severe pain and irritation are other symptoms of a damaged ear. “During the winter, the air is humid and this tends to cause fungus growth in the ear.” In case of pain, get it checked by a doctor rather than closing the ears with cotton plugs to reduce pain.
Swimmer’s ear, is another common ear problem with people who swim regularly. Since they swim often, water enters their ears damaging the skin and leaving it fragile. “The ear skin is moist for a long time for the swimmers and this will damage their hearing,” says Dr Ravi.