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National Women's Health Week: The Importance of Healthy Hearing

This week marks a very important observance – the National Women’s Health Week. Coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office on Women's Health (OWH), it started Sunday (Mother’s Day) and runs through May 16. This nationwide initiative encourages women to follow simple but important steps toward a better all-around health – from head to toe, and passing through the ears.

While this week sheds light on the importance of taking care of our health, testing and screening for breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, or cardiovascular diseases (the risks of which increase in post-menopausal women) can be done any day of the year. And, needless to say, any time is a good time to quit smoking, start exercising and eating healthy foods (see below).

Of course, your hearing should not be neglected either. After all, healthy body and healthy ears go (no pun intended) hand-in-hand.

Hearing loss = poor quality of life

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, about 10 million women in the United States have significant hearing loss, and more than 2.5 million of those women are under age 45. For those younger women, studies show, the cause of the hearing loss can be attributed to degenerative diseases such as lupus - a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the skin, joints, kidneys, nervous system and mucous membranes, as well as otosclerosis, a condition in which bone grows over a tiny structure in the middle ear.

Yet, a major study focusing exclusively on hearing in women, carried out a couple of years ago at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, showed that, although hearing loss is among the most chronic conditions affecting women, a great number of them don’t include hearing test as part of their healthcare routine.

One of the reasons, researchers say, may be that women, especially younger ones, attach more stigma to hearing loss than men do. Unfortunately, the same research suggests that women whose hearing is untreated have a greater risk of depression and other emotional problems, which include, according to Better Hearing Institute (BHI), negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, avoidance or withdrawal from social situations, social rejection and loneliness, reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety, impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced job performance and earning power, and diminished psychological and overall health.

Isn’t combating all these conditions worth getting your hearing tested and treated, sooner rather than later?

Words of wisdom

Hearing loss prevention in women
Healthy hearing is important at any age for women

To highlight the importance of hearing health for women, BHI is joining the HHS and OWH during this week to promote this important issue, especially since May is also National Hearing and Speech Month.

“It’s especially important that women take care of their health,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s Executive Director. “Unaddressed hearing loss is an under-recognized health issue that undermines quality of life. It can negatively affect virtually every aspect of a woman's life. It leads to stress and fatigue because it requires so much effort to listen to what someone is saying.”

Untreated hearing impairment, Kochkin adds, not only affects women’s quality of life and well being, but also how well they communicate with their healthcare providers about other health problems. “What's more, women assume many important roles in our society. How well they hear affects how well they can communicate and manage their many responsibilities," he says.

For those women - and men too - who have not yet been screened for hearing loss (in fact, out of an estimated 31.5 million Americans with hearing impairment, only 24 percent have a hearing aid), it is recommended to see a hearing care professional to obtain a baseline hearing test. This is an important first step in determining if you have hearing loss and if significant enough, what is the necessary treatment.

Pro-active measures

It goes without saying that good hearing – and good health in general – should be at the forefront of our minds and our top priority every day of the year, not just this week.

Numerous studies have shown that certain medical conditions and lifestyle choices can negatively affect not only our overall health, but hearing as well.

For example, there’s a clear correlation between smoking and obesity and hearing loss, so the logical step would be to quit smoking (which is nefarious not only to your ears but to all the other vital organs in your body), and lose weight with exercise and healthy nutrition.

Scientific evidence also points to a link between hearing impairment and diabetes; in fact, hearing loss is about twice as prevalent in adults with diabetes, so if you have, or suspect you may have, this condition, get treated immediately. This is all the more important because diabetes also raises your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Last but certainly not least, avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises because they have been identified as one of the major causes of hearing loss in adults and children. Any noise above 85 decibels (sounds equivalent to a busy city traffic) should be avoided like a plague. How? Simply turn the volume down on your iPod or other personal listening device; in a noisy workplace, wear earplugs or other protective gear.

Those are good first steps toward better hearing health, but there is even more you can do to ensure you are in tip-top shape.

Hear – and heed – this advice

National Women's Health Week recommends these very sound measures for optimum overall health and healthy hearing:

  • Getting at least 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity, 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both each week
  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Visiting a health care professional for regular checkups and preventive screenings
  • Avoiding risky behaviors, like smoking and not wearing a seatbelt
  • Paying attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress

It’s all a matter of common sense and the willingness to go that extra step to ensure good health and good hearing – this week and beyond!

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