Humans are exposed to all kinds of sounds on a daily basis; including cars, engines, televisions, or radios. Under most circumstances, these sounds are at safe levels and do not affect our hearing. However, when we are exposed to loud noises, sensitive structures inside the inner ear can be damaged. This condition is referred to as noise induced sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing is a complex mechanism which requires several structures to work together. The outer ear includes the pinna and external auditory canal. The pinna functions to collect sound waves and direct them into the auditory canal. Because of its unique structure, sounds are amplified as they travel towards the back of the auditory canal. The captured sound waves then reach the tympanic membrane (eardrum) at the back of the canal, causing it to vibrate back and forth. The eardrum represents the separating barrier between the outer and the middle ear. As the eardrum vibrates, three tiny bones behind it begin to shift with it. These tiny bones are considered the smallest in the body, and are called ossicles. The last tiny bone, commonly referred to as the stapes, then transfers the vibrating motion to the organ of hearing, the cochlea. It is inside the cochlea where tiny structures called “hair cells” convert the vibrating energy into an electrical signal. The signal travels to the brain where perception occurs.
When noises are too loud, the tiny hair cells within the inner ear are damaged and eventually die. This results in decreased hearing. Noise induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense sound (such as a blast) or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time (working in a loud shop). Leisure activities can also put one at risk for noise induced hearing loss. This might include listening to MP3 players at high volumes or attending loud rock concerts.
There are many other causes of hearing loss besides noise, and these causes include aging (presbycusis), genetics, disease (history of recurrent middle ear infections, viral inner ear infections, and Meniere’s disease), and trauma .The severity of hearing loss depends on all of these factors , which can co-exist and be additive. Individuals with a mild hearing loss might only experience difficulty hearing with background noises. Individuals with a severe hearing loss may experience difficulty during normal conversation, which can impact their personal and professional life significantly. Another common symptom of hearing loss is ringing or buzzing in the ear, which is referred to as tinnitus. Tinnitus will often come and go, and can be extremely bothersome to patients. Machines that create masking sounds (white noise) can be used to “cancel-out” the tinnitus in many cases.
Noise induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that can be completely prevented. The best way to do so is to avoid loud noises. If one cannot avoid excessive noise, hearing protection is recommended. Ear plugs or ear muffs are frequently used to help decrease loud noises.
Proper assessment of hearing loss requires a hearing evaluation. If one suspects that their hearing has decreased it is important to see an otolaryngologist (Ears, Nose, and Throat physician) or licensed hearing professional who can perform a specialized hearing test. Depending on the results and exam, a patient may be a candidate for a hearing aid or other assistive listening devices. Other modalities include fabricating a custom ear plug that can minimize additional noise exposure if one is routinely exposed to loud noises at work or during hobbies (i.e. musicians). If a patient wishes to pursue hearing aids, a hearing aid evaluation is set up. During a hearing aid evaluation a trained audiologist or hearing instrument specialist will meet with the patient and help them find a hearing aid model which works best for them.
If you have any questions about Noise Induced Hearing Loss or want to set up an evaluation with one of our Board Certified Ear Nose Throat specialists, or licensed audiologists or hearing instrument specialists, please contact us at Colden & Seymour Ear Nose Throat and Allergy at 978-997-1550, or through our website.
Recurrent nose bleeds are very common and can range in severity from being a nuisance to being on rare occasions life threatening. The clinical term for bleeding from the nose is epistaxis.
Nose bleeds occur due to the bursting of tiny blood vessels known as capillaries that are found throughout the nasal cavity. Roughly 90% of bleeds start near the front of the nose in a small region called Kisselbach’s plexus. Kisselbach’s plexus is a collection of fragile blood vessels on the surface of the nasal septum (the wall that divides the left and right nasal passages) that is exposed to irritants, such as cold weather, dry heat, digital manipulation and trauma. These blood vessels can be easily broken by simple trauma such as excessive nose blowing, or they can on occasion rupture for no apparent reason. Bleeding that occurs towards the back of the nose (posterior) is less common and may be more difficult to control. If bleeding occurs on one side of the nose, it can sometimes drip to the back of the throat and be coughed up, or even pass through to the other side of the nose through the back of the throat or breaks in the septum.
Causes of nose bleeds can be divided into three categories, local, systemic, and idiopathic (unknown). Local causes, which are the most common, include nasal trauma, nasal dryness, and septal abnormalities. Trauma of the nose might be related to a nasal fracture, frequent nose picking, excessive nose blowing, or nasal surgery. Nasal dryness mostly occurs during winter months when patients live in warmer and dryer environments. When the nose is dry and irritated becomes more susceptible to bleeding. Abnormalities of the nasal septum include septal deviations (bending of the wall that separates the passages) and septal perforations (a hole in the septum). Such abnormalities can cause turbulent airflow in the nose which may contribute to nasal irritation, and subsequent nasal bleeding.
Systemic causes include various blood disorders and certain types of medications that may thin the blood. Patients with high or poorly controlled blood pressure are at higher risk for nasal bleeding because the blood vessels are more likely to burst when they are under high pressure. In addition, patients who take anticoagulants (blood thinning medications) are also at a higher risk. Some of the more common prescribed medications include Coumadin and Plavix, but there are many others. Many over the counter medications taken in high quantities can thin the blood, such as Advil/Motrin or aspirin. Other conditions associated with nose bleeds include liver disease (which makes platelets that are necessary for clotting not as effective), and primary bleeding disorders, such as Von Willebrand’s disease.
It is very important to know what other medical problems co-exist, what medications a patient may be taking, and family or personal history of bleeding or bruising to best determine the potential cause and treatment of nose bleeds. No matter what the cause of a nosebleed, one should apply pressure to the front of the nose when an active nosebleed is occurring. Holding pressure in this area for 10 minutes will put pressure on the capillaries that commonly bleed (Kisselbach’s plexus), and is the most effective way to stop the bleeding. Nasal decongestants such as oxymetazoline or neosynephrine may also be used, either directly sprayed in the nose or applied to a cotton ball then placed in the nasal cavity. Ice to the nasal regions can also reduce bleeding in some cases. If bleeding persists, medical intervention is recommended. One common procedure that can be done in the office setting is cauterization, whereby a chemical called silver nitrate is applied to the nasal vessels to help seal them up. If bleeding still doesn’t resolve, either an electrical cautery can be used, or various types of nasal packing can be applied to tamponade the blood vessels and stop bleeding. Usually these nasal packs need to remain in place for a few days, and although they may be uncomfortable, they typically have a 95% chance of stopping a nosebleed. Because nasal packs can sometimes cause infections, it is very important that patients be placed on an oral antibiotic at the same time. Nasal packing can be absorbable or non-absorbable.
Preventative measures include nighttime humidification, avoiding digital manipulation of the nose, and applying daily moisturizers to the inner nose. Common moisturizers that are effective are Vaseline, nasal emollients, and saline nasal sprays. Minimizing aspirin and Motrin as well as controlling your high blood pressure may also help to reduce nose bleeds. Resting and avoiding undue force in the nasal cavity can be effective, so we usually recommend 2-3 days of light activity and avoiding bending or lifting. If you experience recurrent nose bleeds, or have had a severe one that is difficult to stop, please consider an evaluation by a trained expert, i.e. Ear Nose Throat specialist, that can better evaluate the entire nasal cavity by performing a quick painless in office procedure called a nasal endoscopy to better determine potential causes and treatment options.
Opinions expressed here are those of myself, Dr. Daryl Colden. They are not intended as medical advice and cannot substitute for the advice of your personal physician.