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Protecting your residual hearing

People with hearing loss, whether mild or severe, often need hearing aids in order to hear well enough to communicate with others and maintain a high quality of life. Their remaining natural hearing, or residual hearing, is how well that person can hear without the use of hearing aids. While it's likely that you will need to use your hearing aids the majority of the time in order to live life to its fullest, it's still important to be mindful of protecting your residual hearing ability. Here are a few ways you can help your hearing loss from getting more severe:

Two devices

While you may have different degrees of hearing loss in both ears, your audiologist will recommend that you get two instruments. There are a few reasons for this. One of them is to make sure that you are able to hear everything around you – including noises from the front, back and both sides – so that your perception of hearing is more natural. But the other reason is so that you are able to maintain your residual hearing ability in the unaided ear. If you only wear one device, your unaided ear is left out of a lot of the conversation. This lack of use will actually deteriorate the hearing you still have in that ear at a quicker rate.

Use hearing aids

It may have taken years for you to finally get hearing aids, but after purchasing them, it's important to actually wear them. It is common to have to go back to the hearing healthcare professional to get the hearing aid settings adjusted after getting your first pair, and it may even take a few tries. Work with the professional to make sure that your devices work well for you, and don't be afraid to inform your hearing healthcare professional if you're having difficulty using your hearing aids in certain listening environments. Once the settings are optimal, use your hearing devices as much as possible, working up to wearing them during all of your waking hours. If you decide not to use your hearing aids, you are not only wasting money on a beneficial investment, your hearing loss will likely begin to worsen.

Protecting your residual hearing

When using hearing aids, it's important to make sure that you are caring for the hearing that you still have, and that means that you should limit your exposure to loud noises. Loud noises and high frequencies can damage the inner ear hair cells, so that your hearing loss will continue to worsen. When you're at home, make sure to keep radios and televisions set to a low volume level. With your hearing aids, you should be able to hear well enough without blasting the sound.

Your hearing can also be damaged by using loud equipment such as a lawn mower, leaf blower or power saw. If you are using these devices, always wear protective foam plugs or ear muffs. If you are out and about at a place with loud music, like a concert or production, always protect your ears.

If you take prescription medications for an illness, make sure that you speak with your doctor about your hearing loss. Some drugs will have an effect on hearing or cause tinnitus.

Healthy diet

Vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C and E, and magnesium can reduce your hearing loss and help you maintain your residual hearing loss. Several studies have shown that this combination can improve blood flow to the inner ear, reduce the amount of free radicals and prevent the loss of hair follicles in the ear. While these findings are just preliminary, it can be helpful to focus on a diet that includes eating foods rich in these vitamins or taking supplements. Vitamins B and D, and copper and zinc have also been noted for their hearing health properties.

Improve auditory skills

A 2011 study published in the scientific journal PLoS One found that learning an instrument can actually improve hearing. While this may seem contradictory, researchers believe that playing a musical instrument focuses on auditory skills, improves auditory memory scores and can increase hearing speech in noisy environments.

"What we do with our time and how we engage our senses and our thinking seems to really shape the people we become in very basic ways - in ways that effect how our senses work," Nina Kraus, co-author of the study and director of Northwestern University's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, told NPR.

If you are still concerned about maintaining your residual hearing after receiving hearing aids, talk to your audiologist. Your hearing healthcare professional can give you personalized tips to make sure that your hearing loss doesn't continue to deteriorate.

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