The ear is rarely thought about because it is such a small organ, however, it can severely affect our ability to move and balance if anything goes wrong. Things going wrong can include any age-related hearing loss, age-related dizziness or imbalance, infections, hearing aid issues, vertigo and that annoying ringing sound known as tinnitus.

As we get older, the delicate hair cells in our inner ear, which pick up high frequency sounds, can get damaged. This sort of hearing loss can run in families, and is more common in men. But there are environmental factors that clearly contribute. Being exposed to loud noise, such as setting off an air bag during a car crash, machines at work, power tools, gunshots, or loud music, is a key factor.  Skin reactions, like dermatitis, on the outside of the ear or in the ear canal from perfume, hair dye, or from wearing hearing aids can also contribute.

Age related hearing loss happens gradually – often over years – and isn’t associated with other problems like pain or ringing in the ears. According to Patient.co.uk, this kind of hearing loss can start in your 40s, but by your 60s, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that you’ll be affected, and if you’re over the age of 75, the chance is 1 in 2. The earliest problems tend to be with high frequency sounds, like speech, for example, women’s voices.  You might find it hard to hear a conversation when you’re in a noisy environment. As time goes on, you may need to turn the TV sound up, or have problems hearing on the phone.

Did you know that a build-up of ear wax can also be a cause of age-related hearing loss? Our ear canals naturally produce wax and it’s our body’s way of keeping our ears clean! Usually, it picks up foreign particles that get deposited in our ear canal, and gradually works its way to the entrance of your ear canal, where it escapes. If wax builds up, though, it can block sound waves passing to your eardrum, making your ears feel blocked and affecting your hearing. Using cotton buds to ’clean’ your ears is apparently not a good idea because doing this pushes the wax hard against your ear drum. As a result it could damage the delicate lining of your ear canal, causing pain and infection, or even perforate your eardrum.

Ear drops, or even slightly warm olive oil, can help rid of excess wax, by softening it and allowing it to escape by itself. Use drops 3 or 4 times a day for at least 5 days. If that doesn’t help, make an appointment with your practice nurse to get your ears syringed – but do soften the wax with drops first.

The most important thing is to take care of your ears from as early an age as possible to reduce the risk of developing problems in older age. Key prevention tips include avoiding excessive noise, removing ear wax properly as explained above, checking medications for hearing risks (these medications are “ototoxic” such as antibiotics and certain anti-cancer drugs), and cutting down smoking because there has been a link established between tobacco smoke and hearing loss.