What’s ringing in my ears?

Man holding his ears

What is that ringing in my ears?


Tinnitus affects nearly 50 million people in the United States. It is not life threatening but it can be so severe in some people that they cannot function on a daily basis.

Tinnitus is hearing sounds where there are no actual external noises. Damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlear cause electrical bursts of energy to send signals to the brain which is perceived as an audible sound. It can be described in many different ways, such as ringing, buzzing, hissing, and cricket sounds etc.

Do I have hearing loss?

Not everyone who has tinnitus has hearing loss. Many people are bothered more by their tinnitus than their hearing loss.

Managing tinnitus

Although there is no “cure” for tinnitus, there are ways to manage it. It is important to consult with an Audiologist and Otolaryngologist to rule out serious conditions that may be associated with tinnitus and to develop a tinnitus treatment plan. Such plans could include sound generators, tinnitus maskers, tinnitus habituators and relaxation exercises.

I find a combined approach works best for many of my patients. However, it is important to consult a specialist to derive the appropriate course of treatment for your individual needs.

– Dr. Donna Szabo
Director of Audiology
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Problem with Q-Tips?

Q-tips

Are Q-tips that bad of a habit?

If you measure the use of Q-tips against other healthcare related advice, using Q-tips isn’t really that bad. I mean so long as you don’t mind having muffled hearing until the ear canal occlusion is resolved.

Unlike smoking, drunk driving and poor nutrition which can all permanently affect your functional status Q-tipping is relatively benign and almost never causes any type of permanent affect.

There are exceptions

There are exceptions such as the inadvertent perforation of an ear drum which often heals spontaneously, or when nature fails the perforation can be closed surgically. Other theoretical but extremely rare considerations include injury to the middle ear bones called ossicles and driving the ossicles into the inner ear (cochlea) which could potentially cause permanent hearing loss. This complication of a Q-tip driving the ossicles into the inner ear and permanently damaging an inner ear is really one of those one in a million lottery type of events and not something I have seen in 28 years of practice.

But keep in mind I have seen plenty of eardrums perforated by an inadvertent Q-tip slip.

A plunger

Remember: the Q-tip is really only a plunger compacting the wax in the canal against the ear drum. This compaction of the wax makes for an ideal plug to counteract loud noise exposure but will be frustrating in most social situations.

– Dr Michael Scherl

Elbow in Your Ear?

Guy  focused on his ear

Guy focused on his ear

Most people over 30 have heard the adage of “Nothing larger than your elbow in your ear canal”.

This has been promoted and handed down for generations by healthcare professionals and grandparents as gospel. When I first heard it I was intrigued with the mechanics of how could an individual angle their elbow to enter the ear canal. It just isn’t possible to get your elbow anywhere near your ear canal. Plus whoever had any sense of the diameter of their elbow? Is the elbow just the point or does it include the skin and bone? I am not sure where the elbow begins and the muscles of my forearm and arm end.

Measure the diameter of an elbow?

It’s not easy to measure the diameter of an elbow unless you hold it up pointing out and flex you arm back. At that angle you can hold a ruler with your second hand and try and decide on the width and height to determine a possible diameter. In my case I am guessing that an inch or basically somewhere between 2 and 3 centimeters is the widest object permitted in my ear canal based on the adage. Therefore fingers, Q-tips, pencils, pen, paperclips and screwdrivers are excluded. Looking around it seems only things like a baseball bat, broom handle, knife or umbrella handle are allowed.

The take home message: stay out of your ears!

Other than the use of drops and water nothing is meant to enter the ear canal.

– Dr Michael Scherl

Is Your Ear Clogged?

Man trying to unclog ear waxEveryday people wake up or take a shower or manipulate their ears and suddenly they can’t hear.

As an Ear, Nose and Throat practitioner I “hear” about it every day from my patients. The answer is so simple in the vast majority of cases. In fact I think that most people realize the cause the moment they notice the hearing loss.

What is Ear Wax

Cerumen (ear wax) is usually the cause but mostly a failure to heed conventional wisdom is the culprit. It is quite basic. The ear is simply a bowl designed to gather sounds from each quadrant in front of us. The ear canal a pipe which helps to make sure certain sound frequencies resonate (amplify) and make it to vibrate our ear drums.

Obstruct your ear canal for any reason and the ambient sound is muted. Situated at the most outer part of our canal are glands that secrete oils. That oil along with skin we shed and maybe some hair all together forms what we all call earwax or doctors politely call cerumen. In most patients the natural biology of cerumen is to migrate out of the ear canal. Some people aren’t so fortunate to have cerumen that migrates but most do!

No Q-tips or fingers in ears

Q-tips (also known as cotton swabs) and fingers are simply plungers which compact and plow the cerumen deeper into the canal. There is nothing magical about cotton or your skin which will cause the cerumen to adhere and drain from the canal when you withdraw the finger or Q-tips. So there it is: Mess with the flow of cerumen out of your ear canal and you may find yourself temporarily clogged!

– Dr Michael Scherl

Northern Valley ENT Fall Newsletter

Northern Valley ENT’s Fall Newsletter is now available. Please take a moment to download and read all the latest news for Northern Valley ENT. You can read about how we are celebrating Audiology Awareness month and a whole lot more!

Click to download the Northern Valley ENT Fall Newsletter.

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Team Approach

Our Team

Did you know at Northern Valley ENT our team approach extends beyond our Providers to include a friendly and knowledgeable staff?

When you visit our Westwood Office, Karen and Jinny, our Front Desk Receptionists offer a warm greeting sure to create a lasting impression. They can be sticklers though about the paperwork you need to complete. It is because they want the most up-to-date information available for your Provider. This is important not only for your visit but any care coordination you might need. Gloria often brings you back to the exam room. Her cheerfulness will put you at ease as she takes your blood pressure and asks some questions about your height, weight and smoking history. Connie answers a lot of phone calls. Her compassion is ever present and no matter the reason for your call she makes sure you will get what you need. Melissa has been busy posting claims all summer and providing extra staff coverage. She will be leaving us to return to college and is helping to train Kristin who has just joined us.

Lauren works in our Englewood Office. Her gregarious manner is on display no matter the task.

Natasha continues her various roles often assisting the Doctors with procedures as she trains to be a Hearing Aid Specialist. This will enable her to fully be a part of our Audiology team. There is no doubt these exceptional employees all share the same commitment to providing Patient- Centered care as Dr. Scherl, Dr. Lee, Dr Szabo and Dr. Roses do.

By Cathy Gass

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Working with Giants

NY Giants

It’s not too often an ENT practice and audiologist can claim a share in a super bowl victory. Back in May of 2007 Northern Valley ENT participated in the launch of the Lyric hearing aid. InSound medical asked us to pick a few patients to fit with the first ever totally invisible continuous wear hearing aid. We identified a group of our practice patients who seemed ideal for the Lyric hearing aid. One of the patients we chose was a NY Giants coach eager to improve his functional status. Defensive line coach Mike Waufle had used hearing aids in prior seasons that helped him to communicate with players on the field but would create feedback when using headphones to talk with fellow coaches up in the booth. In 2007 our practice provided him with Lyric hearing aids which enabled him to talk to players on the field and also wear headphones. He worked closely with audiologist Dr. Donna Szabo and Dr. Michael Scherl during the 2007 season. Undeniably his defensive line pressured Tom Brady preventing him from completing passes. Coach Waufle credited his new Lyric hearing aids from our practice with allowing him to effectively communicate with his defensive line players and also the coaches in the booth to enhance their performance and a ultimately achieve a victory in the 2008 Super bowl. Finally coach Waufle had a hearing aid that was deep enough in his ear canal that he could wear a headphone over the ear and not get feedback and allowed him to hear much better. His dominant defensive line was the major force behind the Giants super bowl triumph.