Reasons For Hearing Loss: Some You Know, Some You Don't
The ability to hear the sounds around us is an important quality-of-life issue. Sure, hearing enriches our lives, whether it’s listening to Mozart or playing with a grandchild. Sounds make life more enjoyable, more worth living. But it’s not just about quality of life.
The ability to hear is a safety issue. We often hear hazards before we see them. For example, smoke alarms. Studies have shown persons with hearing loss can’t hear traditional smoke alarms and are at risk for injury if a fire was to occur.
Loss of hearing is also a workplace issue. People with untreated hearing loss are less productive on the job. They make more mistakes because of misheard directions. And workers who do wear hearing aids are, for some reason, seen as “broken” or simply out-of-it.
The fact is, hearing loss affects all aspects of life and it is estimated more than 28 million Americans report some degree of hearing loss, yet fewer than one-quarter of those do something about it – like have themselves fitted with hearing aids.
Now, you might think that hearing loss is an age thing and you’re right, but today, audiologists and other hearing professionals are seeing patients in their 20s and 30s with permanent, nerve damaged hearing loss, so hearing loss isn’t just happening to gramps. The whole family is at risk.
In fact, there are many reasons for hearing loss – ones you may not have even known about. It’s a noisy world, folks, and once your hearing is gone it’s usually gone for good. The hearing mechanism that nature provides is sensitive, delicate and easily damaged by many different factors.
Workplace Noise and Hearing Loss
|Workplace noise common cause of hearing loss|
This one’s a no-brainer. The factory floors, the assembly line, the jack hammer, the chainsaw – many of us have jobs that expose our ears to damaging levels of sound from 9-to-5 throughout the work week.
The obvious solution is just so…so…obvious! Wear ear protection – hear-through ear plugs, ear cups or noise cancellation devices will keep your hearing in tip-top shape longer. Hearing protection will also keep you on the job longer. Hey, that’s a good thing, right?
Most manufacturers in the United States who produce excessive levels of noise are monitored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and will require your employer to provide ear protection. However, for smaller outfits, such as carpenters and construction workers – those employers are not always monitored. Advocate for yourself and ask your employer to provide you with hearing protection. It will save your hearing and save them from a lawsuit.
Ear Buds and Hearing Loss
You see them everywhere. The ubiquitous ear buds hooked into an MP3 player or iPod pumping huge amounts of sound directly into the ear. Ummm, think that’s a good idea?
Hearing loss is caused by long-term exposure to loud noise, so if you’re listening to your favorite tunes at ear-splitting volume to block out the sounds of the world around you, guess what. You may be causing damage to your hearing and although it does not develop immediately, the damage is cumulative through the years and will eventually add to age-related hearing changes as well.
Some points to keep in mind while plugging in. Your risk of hearing loss is dependent upon both how loud the music is being played and for how long you are exposing yourself to the loud music. Turn it down and you can listen longer. Turn it up, listen for a shorter amount of time and give your ears a break to recover.
If you listen to your MP3 player in excessive background noise (like on a train or bus), consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones. These headphones block external noise from interfering with your music, thus you will be less inclined to turn up the volume.
Oh, you may be having fun now, but 10 years from now you may find yourself asking if it was all worth it. It’s not.
Cruisin’ for an Ear Bruisin’
Driving around in a ’57 Vette, with the top down, the wind blowing through your hair and the CD blasting is fun. And cool. But driving with the top down, over time, can lead to hearing loss, according to recent findings from a hearing loss study by British researchers. Sorry, that probably takes some of the fun out of cruising on a Sunday afternoon.
The problem is the level of sound drivers of convertibles experience. The sound of the wind, road noise and the noise generated by traffic (and the world) often exceeds 89 decibels (dB), the measurement of how loud sound is. Any sound over 85dBs can damage the hearing mechanism.
Driving in a convertible, especially at high speeds over long periods of time, produces sound levels in excess of 89dBs – enough of a difference to create hearing problems if you’re in love with your open cockpit.
Researchers suggest rolling up the windows when you cruise can reduce the sound levels to safer levels allowing you to drive with the top down longer. Also lower speeds produce lower noise and, for goodness sake, don’t make a bad situation worse by blasting your 8-track. It’s noisy enough as it is.
Diabetes-Related Hearing Loss
Diabetes, when untreated, affects blood flow. The inner ear depends on health blood flow and when reduced, hearing loss can occur.
A study carried out by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published by the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2008, reported persons with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as non-diabetics.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you already know the routine. Eat a better, healthier diet, keep your weight down and test your glucose levels following doctor’s orders. Have your hearing and vision checked annually as both can be affected by diabetes. Not only will some straightforward lifestyle changes help you stay healthy longer living with diabetes, they’ll keep your hearing intact longer.
“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…”
Maybe, but some drugs come with some pretty serious side effects. Ototoxic drugs are drugs that damage the hearing mechanism. (Oto- is the prefix for hearing sound and –toxic, well you know what toxic means. It’s harmful.)
Ototoxic drugs include many chemo-treatments for various kinds of cancer along with heavy hitting antibiotics used on some of the worst bacteria. But check this out: a drug most of us keep in the medicine chest and take regularly is also known to contribute to hearing loss if taken in excessive amounts. That commonly-used drug? Aspirin.
So, the next time you reach for the aspirin bottle to cure a minor headache, consider the negative side effects that come with the cure. Ototoxic drugs aren’t just potent meds used to cure serious diseases. They can include over-the-counter drugs, as well, so read the warning labels.
In addition for persons taking multiple drugs, over-the-counter and prescription, discuss with your physician or pharmacist on if any together can cause hearing loss. Often times drugs can react to each other and cause ototoxic side effects. This is why it is important to always use the same pharmacy for all of your prescriptions as well as review your complete drug list with your primary physician if you are being managed by multiple doctors.
Smoking and Hearing Loss: Kick Butt
The cochlea, a critical part of the human hearing system, requires a lot of oxygenated blood flow. Just the way things are.
Smoking tobacco restricts blood flow (and causes like a million other bad things to take place throughout the body) so each time you light up, you deny the cochlea the oxygen-rich blood they require. With each cigarette, you damage your hearing just a little bit, but over time, that damage is cumulative. You’re causing hearing loss for your nicotine fix.
Numerous studies and reports have shown the cigarette and hearing loss connection. Like you needed another reason to kick butt. STOP SMOKING ALREADY!
Sickle Cell Anemia
People with sickle cell anemia experience everything from fatigue to hearing loss to joint pain because the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body are misshapen, curved like the garden tool – the sickle.
Again, this restricts blood flow and, therefore, the delivery of oxygen to the hearing mechanism. Once again, over time, this may lead to mild to severe hearing loss, along with a host of other conditions – none of them good.
The ears are always “on.” That means they need oxygen 24/7. They never shut down, even when you sleep. That’s why you hear the baby cry at 2:30 AM. Your ears are always in the “ON” position so, when the hearing mechanism is deprived of oxygenated blood, hearing loss occurs.
A subway, pulling into Penn Station, can pump out over 100 decibels (dB). Traffic on a busy city street can easily reach levels higher than 100dB – especially when that ambulance roars by, sirens blaring to clear a path through traffic.
The world has become a very noisy place, even if you live out in the country. The lawn mower, leaf blower, circular saw and other tools used by the weekend warrior create sound levels that can and will damage hearing and lessen the quality of life.
The solution? Simple, put in some ear plugs. You can pick up a pair at the local drug store or box store that is both inexpensive and convenient.
For weekend warriors that are commonly exposed to noise, consider purchasing comfortable over-the-ear hearing protectors. These are your ultimate protection against noise and are a worthy investment.
Do yourself a favor the next time you fire up the riding mower. Put in your ear plugs, first.
Hearing Loss: It’s Not Just About Aging, Anymore
So, you thought hearing loss was all about aging? That it wasn’t something you had to worry about for decades, so rock on as you ride your mower across the lawn, MP3 player blaring to cover the sound of the engine.
Hearing loss does, indeed, go hand-in-hand with the aging process. The official term for age-related hearing loss is presbycusis, which is a fancy word for nerve hearing loss and it’s just another way our bodies begin to wear out with age.
However, hearing loss can occur at any age. It can also be caused for many reasons. Aging is just one of them.
How well you take care of your hearing today will impact how well you hear in the future. It’s not something you’ll necessarily notice immediately. It’s the cumulative effect of noise exposure throughout a lifetime, along with diseases, overall health, lifestyle, medications and cruising in your convertible.
Lifestyle changes and an increased awareness of your hearing will make the difference today and 20 years from now. So, roll up the windows when you have the top down, regulate your diabetes, stop smoking and for goodness sake, unplug the ear buds.
You want to lose your hearing? It’s easy. You just read simple tips to get you there. You want to keep your hearing health longer?
Change your habits and think about your exposure to loud noise. You’ll hear longer, you’ll hear better and you’ll enjoy life to the fullest.
Healthy living = healthy hearing.