What are the most common organisms found in the ear canal and what cautions should audiologists take when removing cerumen, taking ear impressions, and using equipment placed in the ear canal?
The ear canal is populated by normal skin flora (streptococcus, staphylococcus, diptheroids, lactobacilli, enterococci, Candida etc.) capable of causing opportunistic infection in individuals with compromised resistance.
Unfortunately, patients served by audiologists typically have reduced resistance. Immune systems in older adults and very young people are not as effective as immune systems in young, healthy adults. Underlying disease (diabetes, HIV) drug treatment chemotherapy) and a multiplicity of challenges negatively impact immune system responses.
Great care must be taken by audiologists to reduce contamination and the opportunity for cross contamination between patients and instruments, and between clinicians and patients. The practice of audiology requires physical contact with patients and various objects (tools, instruments, probes) which come into direct contact with multiple patients.
Audiologists are exposed to mucous (the primary component of ear drainage) and blood during procedures such as cerumen removal. Audiologists should be aware of and use universal precautions, which includes disinfecting and sterilizing objects prior to re-use to minimize or eliminate the potential for cross contamination.
In summary, audiologists must be diligent in their infection control efforts to control pathogenic organisms, and seemingly harmless, ubiquitous organisms that can cause opportunistic infection in patients with compromised immune systems.
Infection Control for the Professions of Audiology & Speech Language Pathology. Iles Publications, Olathe, KS, 1996. Available through Oaktree Products, Inc. (800) 347-1960
BIO: Mr. Robert J. Kemp is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Oaktree Products, Inc. in Chesterfield, MO. Oaktree Products, Inc. is a supplier of Audiology and hearing aid supplies and the leading information source on infection control related to audiology. Mr. Kemp earned his B.S. in
Microbiology and a Master's of Business Administration from Rockhurst College in Kansas City, MO. Prior to founding Oaktree Products, he spent 12 years in sales and marketing management in the pharmaceutical industry. Mr. Kemp is a nationally recognized expert in the area of infection control and its implications in hearing healthcare environments. He is an adjunct instructor for several distance learning AuD programs in the area of infection control.