Wax? Fungus? Actual Hearing Loss?

Is it hearing loss? An ear exam can tell you if it's something else.

“Where’d my hearing go?” Did you wake up one morning with ears that felt full, like you were listening through a tunnel? Did you think, “I really did a number on my ears this time — is it hearing loss?” 

Or, could it be something else?

There are many reasons our hearing may temporarily diminish. However, some can lead to more permanent hearing loss. Today I’d like to share some interesting and troubling things I find in my patients’ ears.

1. Compacted Wax

Do you clean your ears with cotton swabs, or maybe a pencil-tissue makeshift cleaning contraption? Either way, you’re disrupting your ears’ natural cleaning mechanism.

Your ear canal produces wax to protect the skin from moisture, dirt, bugs, and bacteria. As the wax gets dirty, it slowly works its way out of the canal to the opening, where you can easily wipe it away with a moist washcloth.

But if you try to eliminate the wax while it’s still in there, you’re not only getting rid of the protection you have from bugs and bathwater entering your ear. You’re pushing in the dirty wax that would have come out.

This can lead to temporary and sudden hearing loss. If earwax in the canal is a problem, I can help you remove the blockage safely.

2. Ear Infection

I see many causes of ear infections, including pushing dirty wax into your ears. We should certainly take a look to make sure you don’t have a bacterial infection causing swelling.

3. Fungus

Gardeners beware! Healthy soil is full of all kinds of good fungi. But that same fungus may cause unbearable itching and hearing loss you if accidentally get it into the ear. Once there, it will thrive until treated with an anti-fungal.

Many people who get fungi in their ears use cotton swabs to relieve the itching, but they’re just pushing those organisms in deeper.

4. Swimmer’s Ear

Has your ear canal become swollen and closed up? If you get water in your ear in a lake, pool, bath, or shower, you may develop an infection in the ear canal that causes the pathway to the eardrum to close.

And, of course, you guessed it. One of the worst things you can do is try to get the water out with a cotton swab.

5. Noise-Induced Sudden Hearing Loss

When you’ve just exposed yourself to very loud noise for an extended period, like a concert, you may develop a sudden hearing loss. This is often accompanied by tinnitus, a full feeling, and should not last more than an hour or so.

If it does last longer, take note. Right now, it’s temporary. But if the hearing is not restored soon enough, it will kill off the tiny hair-like nerve cells that allow you to hear. These cells don’t grow back. That’s what causes permanent hearing loss.

If you have this, doctors may need to prescribe you oral steroids within 72 hours to prevent permanent hearing loss.

Some other causes of sudden hearing loss include:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Lyme disease (and ticks thrive year-round in Memphis!)
  • Acoustic neuromas (growths)
  • Multiple sclerosis

Get It Checked Out

Sudden hearing loss always requires quick action. You may not have permanent hearing loss yet. And it may be an easy fix, but you should always let a professional check it out. I can help you troubleshoot your hearing loss by identifying the potential source.

If you’re experiencing sudden or unexplainable hearing loss, please come see me.