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Important Message for October: Protect Your Hearing!

Are you missing the lazy, hazy days of summer? As the song goes, you may not “want to say goodbye to the summer” (especially if you live in colder climates), but there is a lot going on in the autumn as well.

Take October, for example. The American Academy of Audiology has designated it the “National Protect Your Hearing Month,” a worthy campaign, considering that millions of Americans suffer from a hearing loss. Clearly, the importance of protecting your hearing cannot be overestimated (but, sadly, is all too often underestimated).

Nothing we say here is new but it bears to be mentioned time and again.

National Protect Your Hearing Month

Put on your listening ears

The answer to the question of why you should be pro-active in protecting your hearing is fairly obvious. Just like eyesight, as well as other senses and bodily functions, good hearing is essential to our health, safety, and comfort.

When your hearing is impaired, you can’t listen, communicate or interact with people around you. As a result, your relationships with loved ones, the ability to make a living and social life will suffer. You may become isolated and depressed. As a matter of fact, numerous studies have shown time and again that untreated hearing loss will impact your quality of life; by the same token, good hearing will improve your physical, psychological and emotional well-being.

Look at it this way: protecting your hearing is a sound investment in the overall quality of your life.

Hear today, gone (partially) tomorrow

Most commonly, hearing loss is associated with the aging process. In most cases, presbycusis, a gradual and progressive hearing loss starts in midlife and continues to increase as years go by. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about one in three U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 75 have some degree of hearing loss. The NIDCD further estimates that about half of people 75 and older have some degree of hearing loss as well.

How does this happen? We are born with a set of sensory cells in the inner ear that function optimally in our youth but start to deteriorate over time and our hearing becomes less responsive to sound waves.

But age alone is not always responsible for diminished hearing. Various research suggests that our genetic make-up may play some role in hearing loss as well. Then there is the lifestyle factor; smoking and obesity also have negative effect on your hearing – and, of course, on health in general.

A Belgian study links smoking and obesity with poor hearing, since both (or either) conditions could threaten blood flow to the inner ear.

Now get ready for another culprit – environmental noise.

Pssst, lower the volume!

loud noise and hearing loss
Lower the volume for your hearing

Environmental noise comprises all the sounds we hear inside and outside our homes – machinery in the workplace, traffic and sirens in the street, cheering at sports games, and music we play on our personal audio equipment. It is fair to say that environmental noise is all around us and much of it is harmful to our hearing.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says an estimated 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels on a regular basis, an increase of 10 million from just a few years ago.

In fact, environmental noise is so pervasive in our lives; it affects people of all ages. Studies demonstrate that hearing loss impacts some people earlier than previously thought, mostly due to chronic and prolonged exposure to environmental noise. The U.S. government data shows that approximately 5.2 million children ages 6 to 19 already have permanent damage to their ears' hair cells caused by exposure to loud noises, impacting not only their hearing, but also the potential to cause impaired language development, ability to learn, and social interactions.

An ounce of prevention…

Now, the obvious question is how to mark the National Protect Your Hearing Month in a meaningful way – the kind of pro-active measures you can take that will actually make a positive difference in the way you hear.

The first step is to understand what constitutes hazardous noise. Any sound louder than 85 decibels (dB) –for example, sounds emitted by busy city traffic or power lawn mowers - is considered by hearing health professionals as potentially harmful. And it may come as a surprise that very loud music can reach levels as high as 105 dB and permanently damage your hearing.

While some risk factors, such as your genetic make-up or aging process cannot be modified, you do have control over your hearing to some extent:

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to loud noise, which is defined as sounds louder than 85 decibels. If working in a noisy environment, wear earplugs or other protective gear. By the same token, keep the volume down on your iPod or another personal audio system, or invest into high-quality noise-cancellation headphones.
  • Stop smoking. It’s not good for your hearing, and it’s harmful to all the other organs in your body. • If you are overweight, try to shed those extra pounds with diet and exercise.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, or suspect you might have this disease, get tested and treated immediately, since there is a strong correlation between this disease and hearing loss.
  • If you have young children, check the sound emitted by their toys. If they sound too loud to you, they will certainly be too loud for a child. (And research conducted in 2008 demonstrated that out of 18 toys put to test, 14 measured over 100 dB.)
  • If you or your child listens to Mp3 players regularly, consider lowering the volume and/or reducing the amount of time spent listening to music. Music itself it is not harmful, it is the loudness in which it is played.
  • When listening to music in noisy environments on Mp3 players, consider wearing headphones which block out background noise. This will reduce the need to turn the music up higher.

Following the above guidelines is a good beginning to protecting your (and your loved ones’) hearing. But don’t stop there. If you suspect you may have hearing loss, or if you just want to make sure you don’t, have your hearing checked by a licensed and qualified hearing professional.

If it turns out that your hearing is impaired, discuss treatment and further protection options with the hearing professional.

Make October an ear-friendly month and learn how to protect your hearing all year round.

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