Few of us give much thought to our ears in Charleston, but these (usually) unassuming physical features have a lot to tell us about our overall health. A quick glance is sometimes enough to give us important clues about other underlying medical issues.
Information Our Ears Provide
According to your Charleston audiologist, your ears provide a lot of information about things that might be going on in your body. Ten signs to pay attention to include:
- Creased earlobes. Diagonal creases or wrinkles that appear on your earlobe can be an indication of coronary heart disease. Called Frank’s sign, they occur when blood vessels affecting both the ears and heart break down. A crease across one or both earlobes doesn’t automatically mean you have heart disease – it’s just one possible sign – but it may be a good idea to bring it to your doctor’s attention, especially if you experience symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, or have a family history of heart disease.
- Hearing loss. Hearing loss has been positively linked to a wide range of physical, social and psychological health conditions including memory impairment, cognitive decline and dementia. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that people with moderate hearing loss are three times more likely to develop dementia compared to people with normal hearing. Wearing hearing aids is the best way to prevent complications from untreated hearing loss; they’ll lessen the workload on the brain and free up important cognitive resources.
- Single-sided deafness. One-sided (unilateral) hearing loss is much less common than hearing loss that affects both ears. It is usually caused by trauma, infection or excess fluid in the inner ear. It may also be the result of a tumor known as an acoustic neuroma. Though usually benign, this tumor can eventually become big enough to press against the auditory nerve of the inner ear, leading to single-sided deafness. Additional symptoms of acoustic neuroma include imbalance, tinnitus and facial drooping or weakness.
- Tinnitus. This ringing in the ears is a widespread problem that affects one out of every four Americans to some degree. It is a symptom rather than a disease, the result of an underlying medical condition. Possible causes include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, hormonal changes, Meniere’s disease and tumor. Tinnitus should always be evaluated by an audiologist to rule out a serious underlying issue.
- Itchy ears. Itchiness in the ears is not normal; if it persists longer than a couple of days, you may be suffering from a fungus or eczema in your ears. You might notice a white, cheese-like discharge with fungus, and eczema is often accompanied by white flakes and a red ear canal. Scratching your ears to relieve the itch makes them more susceptible to a fungal infection, so try to resist or you risk exacerbating the problem.
- Earache. Earaches are most often the result of an ear infection but may my classified as “referred pain” resulting from a toothache, TMJ disorder, cellulitis from an infection, a sore throat or tumor. If you suffer from frequent earaches, visit an audiologist for a thorough examination.
- Wet, sticky earwax. Earwax (cerumen) is a normal byproduct of your ears and usually does more good than harm, preventing bacteria and other particles from getting inside the ear canals. Earwax with a wet and sticky consistency may indicate a higher risk of breast cancer due to a mutation of the ABCC11 gene. Keep an eye out for wet, sticky earwax If there is a family history of breast cancer.
- Red ears. Red ears can be a sign of sunburn or flushing from embarrassment; they may also hint at more complex issues such as hormonal changes associated with menopause. Hot flashes are usually confined to the upper body and face and are sometimes accompanied by a ringing in the ears. Red Ear Syndrome, a burning sensation in the ears that may trigger migraines and cluster headaches, is another possible cause.
- Numbness. Numbness by itself isn’t worrisome, but if you have other symptoms such as arm weakness, facial drooping or trouble speaking, you may have suffered a stroke. When accompanied by symptoms such as vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus, you might have an inner ear disorder called Meniere’s disease. Numbness and tingling in extremities other than just your ears can be a sign of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
- Structural abnormalities and skin tags. Oddly-shaped ears and skin tags – small, fleshy growths – are possible signs of kidney disease.
If you’re worried about any of these factors, feel free to schedule an appointment with a Charleston audiologist. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry!