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Ask the Audiologist: Is there anything I can do to avoid losing my hearing?

Many people believe that hearing loss is a natural part of the aging process—there is nothing you can do to prevent it from happening or slow it down. While it’s true that some hearing loss is inevitable as we age, there are many things we can do to delay its onset and minimize its severity.

Protect your hearing from excessive noise

The single most effective thing you can do to protect your hearing is to minimize exposure to excessively loud sounds. This is because noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of permanent hearing loss besides aging. While most people understand the need for hearing protection when working around construction sites or visiting a shooting range, we often fail to realize that even everyday sounds can cause irreversible damage. For example, snow blowers, chain saws, dance clubs, rock concerts, and even movie theaters all can have dangerously high sound levels. Therefore, it is important to be vigilant.

A helpful rule of thumb: if you have to raise your voice to be heard by the person standing next to you, you’re at risk for hearing loss and should wear hearing protection. Follow the directions on the hearing protection packaging carefully. Improper use of hearing protection, such as not placing foam inserts deep enough in your ear canal, not only fails to provide sufficient protection, it can also lead to even more damage by giving you a false sense of security. Furthermore, excessively loud music can be equally damaging, so turn the volume down on that car stereo or personal music player.

Healthy lifestyle, healthy hearing

Beyond protecting yourself from damaging noise, many habits that affect general health can also impact your hearing system. For example, heavy drinking can damage the part of your brain responsible for hearing, while smoking can severely harm the hearing organs in your inner ear by restricting blood flow to these sensitive cells. On the other hand, eating a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats has been shown to promote hearing health.

In addition, a healthy and active lifestyle wards off many other serious conditions that can also have negative consequences for your hearing. These include cardiovascular disorders, and metabolic disorders like diabetes.

Take care of your hearing like the rest of your body

You visit the dentist twice a year and get your eyes checked on a regular basis. But when was the last time you tested your hearing? Unlike tooth decay or vision loss, hearing loss is oftentimes such a slow and “silent” disease that we can be the last one to notice the problem. Yet, untreated hearing loss can have wide-ranging and devastating impacts on our emotional, social, and physical well-being.

Just as you get regular check-ups for the rest of your body, remember to have your hearing tested on a regular basis, too. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that adults should be screened for hearing loss at least once every decade through age 50 and at three-year intervals thereafter. If hearing loss is identified, consult a hearing care professional immediately. They can determine the nature of your hearing loss, rule out any underlying medical conditions, and prescribe the proper treatment.