Hearing loss is common for most people, but is it inevitable? The truth is the majority of adults will begin to notice a change in their hearing as they age. That change is just the effect of years and years of listening to sound. As with most things in life, though, prevention is the key to controlling the extent of that loss and how fast it progresses. There are things you can do now that will impact your hearing later in life, too. It’s never too early to start or too late to care when it comes to ear health. What can you do to keep your hearing loss from getting worse?
Understanding Hearing Loss
It starts with understanding how the ears work and what causes most hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss, known medically as presbycusis, affects one in every three people in this country between the ages of 64 and 74. It is a cumulation of damage to the ears over the years. Presbycusis starts slowly and then gets worse over time.
Sound enters the ear in waves that are amplified several times before they reach the inner ear. Once there, the sound vibrates tiny hairs cells, causing them to bump structures that release chemicals to create an electrical message. It’s this message that the brain interprets as the sound you hear.
The downside to all this movement and bumping is the hair cells eventually break down and stop working. These hair cells don’t repair themselves, either, so once gone, they don’t come back. Without those cells to create the electrical impulses, the sound is never translated into a language the brain can understand.
So, what causes this damage to the hair cells? There are many contributing factors including just normal aging. Sound waves come in various strengths, though; that is what you know as volume. The higher the volume, the more powerful the sound wave and the bigger the impact on the hair cells.
Exposure to loud noise isn’t the only consideration. Chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes take a toll, as well.
Protecting Your Hearing
Good hearing hygiene is a big part of protecting your ears over time. At the heart of the problem is volume. All sound is measured in decibels and the higher the decibel the more dangerous the noise. It doesn’t take as much as you might think to cause damage. If you find you have to raise your voice to talk over a noise, it’s too loud.
Everyone deals with the occasional loud noise but constant exposure or even just a few loud minutes at a time is enough to affect your hearing later on. The good news is protecting your ears from expected loud noises is pretty easy. Wear hearing protection when you:
- Ride a motorcycle
- Run power tools
- Go to a concert
- Do something where the noise is loud.
Avoid using accessories designed to amplify and isolate sound, too, like headphones or earbuds. Listen to music the old fashioned way and at a lower volume.
Manage the Noise Around You
Even the things around your home can produce enough noise to become a problem over time. Today, appliances and other home devices come with noise ratings. The lower the rating the better.
When you are out at a restaurant or party, don’t be afraid to speak up if the noise is too loud. A restaurant manager might be willing to turn the background music down for you or even move to another table away from noisy speakers or clanging dishes.
Be Noise Conscious at Work
If your job exposes you to loud sounds like equipment then do something about it. If your employer doesn’t provide hearing protection, get your own. There are plenty of products out there that will protect you such as:
If you bring up the concern, chances are your employer will listen.
Add hearing to the list of reasons you shouldn’t smoke. Studies show that cigarette smokers are much more likely to experience age-related hearing loss. This is true if you are exposed to secondhand smoke, as well.
Check and Double Check Medications
Some medications are ototoxic, meaning they damage your ears. A few common culprits include:
- Certain antibiotics
- Narcotic analgesics
- Cardiac medication
- Antidepressants and mood stabilizers
This list is a combination of over-the-counter products and prescription medications and it doesn’t cover all of them. Check the label of any pain relievers you buy and use them only when necessary. If you are unsure about a drug, ask your doctor before taking it.
Be Good to Your Body
The little things you should do anyway like eat right and exercise are an important part of preventing hearing loss from getting worse, especially as you get older. If you have high blood pressure, do what you must to manage it like reducing your salt intake and taking the medication prescribed to you. The better you take care of your body, the lower your risk of chronic illnesses that might cost you your hearing over time like diabetes.
Finally, get your hearing testing if you think you have hearing loss or if you hear ringing in your ears. The sooner you know there is a problem, the sooner you can do something about it like getting hearing aids. It’s never too late to take care of your ears, so if you notice a change, even a small one, see your doctor and find out what to do to keep it from getting worse.