Knowing what can harm the ear is the first step in prevention and maintaining a healthy pair of ears. Damage to the ear can come from:
1. Objects forced into the ear canal. One thinks first about children putting small objects like dried beans or parts of toys into their ears, but adults also harm themselves by trying to remove earwax with cotton-tipped sticks, hairpins, or other implements. The dangers are infection and perforation of the eardrum. While the eardrum may be repaired, the danger from infection becomes much greater. Industrial accidents, auto accidents, and warfare can produce shrapnel and glass shards that enter the ear.
2. Infections that come through the ear canal but more often migrate from the throat through the Eustachian tubes to the middle ear. Young children whose immune systems are developing may have frequent sore throats and ear infections. Medical opinion is swinging away from inserting drainage tubes in the ears as most children will grow out of this phase without that intervention. Furthermore, damage to the stapedius muscle frequently occurs as a result of this medical procedure. Infections may be bacterial, viral, or yeast and each type requires a different appropriate medicine.
3. Loud sound can harm the stapedius muscle and can harm the cilia (frequency analyzers) in the cochlea. Sources of loud sound include loud-speakers, jet engines, industrial machinery, the operatic voice, and agricultural equipment from lawnmowers and tractors to combines and fans. Wind turbines can be very dangerous as they can cause specific frequency deafness. Sound cannons, bombs, and other explosives can cause every level of deafness including permanent total hearing loss.
4. Low-frequency sound can harm the stapedius muscle and can harm the cilia in the cochlea.
5. Cold water, usually from swimming in cold water, can promote bony growths in the ear canal.
6. Chemicals, whether encountered accidentally or illicitly or through surgeries or prescriptions, can affect the muscles in the ears. Those chemicals might be inhaled, ingested, or injected. Such trauma includes carbon monoxide poisoning that deprives the ear of its oxygen supply through the blood. Many medications used to treat behavior problems cause damage to the ear muscles as well as atrophy of the skeletal muscles. Anesthetics can have a lasting effect on ear muscles. Alcohol and drug abuse harm the ears.
7. Hormones produced in the body or introduced into the body can affect the ears. For example, prednisone, a steroid hormone, affects muscle, including the tiny muscles in the ears, which accounts for many of its dangerous side effects.
9. Aging erodes the strength of muscles, including the muscles in the ear. Aging often includes cumulative trauma to the ears. Alzheimer’s is one of the results of such cumulative damage.
10. Oxygen deprivation, such as exposure to carbon monoxide, near drowning, a difficult birth, excessive bleeding, or even a lack of exercise can weaken the muscles of the middle ear.
MOST of the circumstances described above can be altered partially or entirely by a listening program that strengthens the stressed or damaged middle ear muscles once the assault has been withdrawn or neutralized. In a few situations, the ear muscle will have been destroyed so that music is not an effective therapy in that ear. However, the vibrations of sound that affect the entire body can help to offset the effects of sound deprivation through the ears.