Hearing loss is normal for most people, but does it have to be that way? The reality is, the majority of people will start to perceive a change in their hearing as they age. After listening to sound for years, you will start to notice even slight changes in your ability to hear. Like most things in life, though, prevention is the key to controlling the degree of that loss and how quickly it progresses. There are some things you can do now that will affect your hearing later on in your life. It’s never too soon to begin or too late to care with regards to your hearing health. You want to keep your hearing from becoming worse, but what can be done?
Understanding Hearing Loss
Learning how the ears work is step one to knowing what causes most hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss, medically known as presbycusis, impacts one in three people in America from 64 to 74. It is an accumulation of damage to the ears over the years. Presbycusis starts slowly and then gets worse over time.
Sound comes into the ear in pressure waves that are amplified a number of times before they finally reach the inner ear. Sound waves wiggle tiny hairs which bump against chemical releasing structures. These chemicals are transformed into electrical signals that the brain interprets as sound.
Failing over time, because of the constant vibration, the tiny hairs eventually quit working. When these hair cells are destroyed, they are gone forever. The sound is not converted into a signal that the brain can comprehend without those little vibrating hairs.
So, what brings about this destruction of the hair cells? It can be greatly increased by several factors but it can be anticipated, to some degree, with aging. The term “volume” refers to the strength of sound waves. The higher the volume, the stronger the sound wave and the bigger the injury to the hair cells.
There are some other considerations apart from exposure to loud noise. Chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes take a toll, as well.
How to Protect Your Hearing
Safeguarding your hearing over time is dependent on good hearing hygiene. Volume is at the heart of the issue. Sound is measured in decibels and the higher the decibel level the more dangerous the noise. It doesn’t take as much as you may think to lead to damage. If you notice that you have to raise your voice to talk over a noise, it’s too loud.
Even just a few loud minutes, not to mention continuous exposure, will be enough to cause an adverse effect later on. Luckily, it’s quite easy to take precautions to protect your ears when you know you’re going to be exposed to loud sound. Use hearing protection when you:
- Participate in loud activities.
- Go to a performance
- Ride a motorcycle
- Run power tools
Avoid using accessories made to amplify and isolate sound, too, like headphones and earbuds. A lower volume should be chosen and use regular speakers.
Day-to-Day Noises That Can be an Issue
Over time, even household sounds will become a hearing hazard. The noise rating should be checked before you buy a new appliance. It’s much better to use equipment with lower noise ratings.
When you are out at a restaurant or party, don’t be afraid to tell someone if the noise gets too loud. A restaurant manager may be willing to turn the background music down for you or possibly move you to another table away from noisy speakers or clanging dishes.
Be Aware of Noise Levels at Work
If your job exposes you to loud noises like equipment, you need to do something about it. If your manager doesn’t provide hearing protection, buy your own. There are plenty of products out there that will protect you such as:
Your employer will probably be willing to listen if you bring up your worries.
Add hearing to the long list of reasons you shouldn’t smoke. Studies show that smokers are much more likely to experience age-related hearing loss. If you are exposed to second-hand smoke this is also true.
Double Check Medications
Ototoxic medications are known to cause damage to your ears. A few common culprits include:
- Narcotic analgesics
- Certain antibiotics
- Cardiac medication
- Mood stabilizers and antidepressants
This list is a mix of over-the-counter products and prescription medications and it doesn’t cover all of them. If you take pain relievers, do so only when necessary and read the labels. Consult your doctor first if you are not certain.
Be Good to Your Body
The little things you should do anyway like eating right and exercising regularly are an important part of preventing hearing loss from getting worse, particularly as you start to get older. Do what is required to deal with your high blood pressure like taking your medication and reducing salt consumption. The better you care for your health, the lower your chances of chronic illnesses that might cost you your hearing over time, like diabetes.
If you think you have hearing loss or if you have ringing in your ears, get your hearing tested. The sooner you acknowledge you have a problem, the sooner you can do something about it, like getting hearing aids. Schedule an appointment with a hearing expert to keep any problems from getting even worse. It’s not too late.