Did you know that your ears can often provide important clues about your physical health?
Your Houston audiologist might be able to make an educated guess about underlying physical conditions based on their appearance and function.
What Can Your Ears Reveal?
Obviously, it takes more than a quick glimpse at your ears to diagnose an underlying health condition, but your Houston audiologist has identified ten possible signs of health problems based on your ears.
Signs to watch for include:
- Creased earlobes. Wrinkles or creases are common on certain parts of your body as you age, but don’t usually affect the earlobes. A diagonal crease bisecting the middle of your earlobe known as Frank’s sign may be a sign of coronary heart disease. It occurs when tissue surrounding the blood vessels breaks down around the ears and the heart. Keep in mind that creased earlobes are just one possible sign; if you are experiencing other symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, it’s wise to consult with a medical professional ASAP.
- Hearing loss. Hearing loss is associated with a variety of physical, social and psychological health problems, a list that includes memory loss, dementia, diabetes and kidney disease. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, individuals with moderate hearing loss are three times as likely to experience dementia as those with normal hearing. If you have been diagnosed with hearing loss, don’t ignore it; treatment with hearing aids helps lessen the workload on the brain and can help prevent many of these health complications.
- Single-sided deafness. Hearing loss in only one ear is often caused by trauma, infection or fluid in the inner ear. It may also be the result of a benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma. Though noncancerous, eventually this type of tumor can grow large enough to press against the auditory nerve, causing a loss of hearing in one ear. Accompanying symptoms such as dizziness, tinnitus and facial drooping or weakness are common.
- Tinnitus. This ringing in the ears (or buzzing, whooshing, whistling, clicking, etc.) is a symptom rather than a disease and always results from another condition, some more serious than others. Possibilities include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, hormonal changes, Meniere’s disease and tumors. Tinnitus sufferers may also deal with stress, anxiety and insomnia.
- Itchy ears. When your ears itch, you might be suffering from eczema or a fungus. White flakes and a red ear canal often accompany eczema, while a fungus might present with a white discharge. Scratching your ears increases your chances of infection, so try to resist the urge. If itchiness lasts longer than a couple of days, schedule an appointment with a health provider.
- Earache. Earaches are very common in children, often indicating an ear infection, but considerably less so in adults. Earaches could also be a type of “referred pain” associated with a toothache, TMJ disorder, cellulitis from an infection, tumor or sore throat. If you experience frequent earaches or symptoms that linger, make an appointment with a Houston audiologist.
- Wet, sticky earwax. Earwax is normal; it prevents bacteria and other particles from entering the ear canals and is usually harmless. If the consistency is wet and sticky, however, you might have a higher risk of breast cancer. A mutation on the ABCC11 gene often results in this unusual texture. Watch out for this, especially if there is a history of breast cancer in your family.
- Red ears. Red ears are often the result of sun exposure or flushing from embarrassment. They may also be a sign of a more serious issue, such as hormonal changes caused by menopause; hot flashes usually affect the upper body and face and may be accompanied by tinnitus, as well. This bright coloration can also be an indicator of Red Ear Syndrome, a burning sensation in the ears that can trigger migraines and cluster headaches.
- Numbness. Numbness that is accompanied by other symptoms such as facial drooping, limb weakness or difficulty speaking are signs of a possible stroke. Numbness along with vertigo, hearing loss or tinnitus may indicate the presence of an inner ear disorder called Meniere’s disease. Numbness and a tingling sensation that extend to other extremities might result from peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes.
- Structural abnormalities and skin tags. Ears that are oddly shaped and contain a lot of small, fleshy growths known as skin tags are signs of possible kidney disease.
Obviously, you won’t want to jump to conclusions based on any of these factors; often, they mean nothing. But it’s never a bad idea to mention them to your doctor the next time you have an exam scheduled.
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