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Do you ever wonder about that occasional, odd ringing in your ears, if your hearing loss is normal, or if you should be worried about your partner’s loud snoring? What are some issues you should expect as you get older? Did you know there are specialists at MetroHealth who can answer these questions and more?

Otolaryngologists, also known as ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors, address many different health conditions, such as hearing problems, sinus infections, snoring and head and neck cancers. David Stepnick, MD, Chair of Otolaryngology at MetroHealth, offers his expertise by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about ear, nose and throat conditions, and the importance of top-notch care.

Q: Why is it important not to ignore ear, nose and throat issues?  

A: We know patients have been putting off office visits and procedures over the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, certain symptoms such as ongoing ear, nose or throat pain or a lump in the headand neck area shouldn’t be ignored — these can be signs of an infection or another health condition that needs treatment. MetroHealth has excellent COVID-19 prevention protocols, so making an in-person appointment is safe. We also offer telehealth services.

Q: What’s the difference between someone whose hearing suddenly deteriorates and someone who constantly has the volume of the TV or radio turned all the way up? 

A: Sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency, and you should ideally be seen for an examination within 24 hours. Causes of sudden hearing loss can include ear infections, trauma and blood circulation problems.

Aging can be the cause of gradual hearing loss. About a third of adults between the ages of 65 and 74, and about half of those 75 and older, have hearing problems.

Whether you experience sudden hearing loss, or your hearing has deteriorated over the years, you should see a doctor.

Q: What is the difference between a head cold and a sinus infection?  

A: Simply put, a cold is caused by a virus, and a sinus infection is usually caused by bacteria. Cold symptoms such as congestion, runny or stuffy nose, headache, sneezing, coughing and lack of energy can cause minor discomfort.

If you’re experiencing sinus pain, pressure around your cheekbones, eyes and forehead, and greenish-yellow mucus discharge, you may have a sinus infection. While these infections sometimes clear up on their own, if symptoms last longer than 10 days, you may need to see an ENT and possibly be treated with antibiotics.

Q: What causes a ringing sound in the ears?

A: This is called tinnitus, and it can occur in one or both ears. You might also experience other sounds such as buzzing, roaring, whooshing, humming or clicking. Tinnitus is usually associated with hearing loss; as the inner ear cells stop working, they send uncontrolled nerve impulses to the brain, making it seem like sound is present when it isn’t. The condition can be caused by exposure to loud noise, blood vessel disorders, ear canal blockage, as well as head and neck injuries.

Tinnitus that develops from noise exposure is common in musicians, factory workers and other people who are frequently exposed to loud sounds. While people of any age can develop tinnitus, it’s more common as you age.

Q: What are nasal polyps? 

A: Nasal polyps are usually just very swollen, noncancerous tissues. They can cause breathing trouble, loss of sense of smell, and can increase your risk for sinus infections because they block nasal drainage and cause bacteria to multiply. Any type of growth inside the nose or in the nasal cavity needs to be looked at by an ENT.

Q: Is snoring just a noise we make when we’re sleeping, or could it indicate a problem?

A: Many people snore. For some, it’s just a noise, but for others, it may be related to an an underlying health problem. If simple lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol before bed, or sleeping on your side do not help — it may be time to see a doctor for further testing.

Snoring can be linked to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and a condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is the partial or complete collapse of the airway while you sleep. The risk of developing OSA increases as you get older because muscles of the tongue and airways weaken.

Your doctor may order a sleep study to get to the bottom of your snoring. We conduct sleep studies at several hotels in Northeast Ohio and take every COVID-19 precaution necessary to ensure the safety and comfort of our patients.

Watch Dr. Stepnick’s virtual health talk for more commonly asked questions below.

MetroHealth ENT experts offer the full spectrum of ENT services at locations throughout the community, including:

  • General adult ENT
  • Hearing and balance
  • Sinus and allergy
  • Voice and swallowing
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Sleep surgery (OSA)
  • Pediatric ENT