Summer is upon us and so are outdoor activities in the hot Georgia sun. While we’re all used to hearing the common, necessary precautions such as using sunscreen and staying hydrated, Dr. Matt Gill of Suwanee ENT shares tips to care for an often overlooked, yet highly sensitive body part: our ears.
By: Dr. Matt Gill, Suwanee ENT
1. Sun Protection
A majority of skin cancers occur in the head and neck region. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears before enjoying time outdoors. Damage from the sun’s UV rays is cumulative – you will reap what you sow later in life! Blistering sunburns in childhood can significantly increase the risk of skin cancers as an adult. So parents, please protect your children! If possible avoid outdoor recreational activities during times of peak UV exposure (10am – 4pm). Use an SPF 50 sunscreen and reapply hourly if in the sun. Don’t forget sun protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats which provide an additional layer of sun protection – especially for those exposed ears!
2. Swimmer’s Ear
Otitis externa or “swimmer’s ear” is a bacterial or fungal infection of the ear canal skin that occurs more commonly during the warm and humid summer months. Water activities that introduce excess moisture into the ears may precipitate an infection. Breaks in the skin from vigorous ear cleaning with Q-tips can also lead to infections. Symptoms include ear pain, drainage, itching and even hearing loss. Medical treatment involves cleaning the ear canal to remove accumulated debris and sloughed skin, and prescription eardrops. In severe cases, the ear canal may be so swollen that drops cannot pass without the placement of a “wick” by a physician. Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to prevent these types of ear infections. Eardrops containing rubbing alcohol can be used to help dry excess moisture in the ears after swimming, but should never be used in the case of an existing eardrum perforation or in people with ear tubes (tympanostomy) as they are not safe for the middle ear. Q-tips should be avoided. If you develop signs and symptoms of otitis externa, prompt medical attention can provide quick and effective relief.
3. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
If your ears are ringing or buzzing after a concert, it’s their way of saying they didn’t have a good time! Tinnitus is common following significant noise exposure and is a sign of damage to the sensitive “outer hair cells” of the inner ear. Some people will also experience a temporary decline in hearing, or “temporary threshold shift,” which usually resolves after a few days. Occasionally, permanent hearing loss may occur from sudden noise exposure, e.g. a firecracker, gunshot, or other explosion going off too close to the ear. Noise and age are the two most common causes of hearing loss, and only one is preventable! Earplugs are an easy and inexpensive way to protect your hearing in noisy environments. Look for earplugs that provide 25-30 decibels of protection (noise reduction rating), which helps to reduce the sound level to a less damaging range. Don’t forget to use earplugs when mowing the lawn as engine noise from mowers, edgers and trimmers is another source of summer noise exposure. Like UV damage, the harmful effects of noise exposure are cumulative, so prevention is key. If your summertime activities will include significant noise exposure, be proactive and protect your hearing