Healthy habits to fight hearing loss
Editor's note: This report was originally published in 2014, but it is a timely topic for the start of any new year. We have updated the information within and provided useful links throughout the article.
It's a new year, and a new you. No matter your hearing status - whether you currently use hearing aids, suspect you may have hearing loss or have perfectly healthy ears - you can start your new year right by vowing to fight hearing loss and protect your hearing.
According to 2016 statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 15 percent of all American adults report having some trouble hearing - that's almost 38 million people over the age of 18. Of Americans over the age of 12, 13 percent have hearing loss in both ears. And, a whopping 28 million people in the United States could benefit from wearing hearing aids, but the vast majority of those never try them.
Though age is a factor, noise-induced hearing loss among people of all ages has become a concerning issue. More than five million children in the U.S. between the ages of 6 and 19, are affected by hearing loss caused by loud noises. This could be due to extremely loud toys, exposure to loud music through ear buds or recreation activities like hunting or riding snowmobiles, for example.
If you don't have a hearing loss, it might be difficult to imagine the impact it can have on quality of life. But even a minor hearing loss, left uncorrected, can lead to lack of confidence, damaged relationships, limited career opportunities, difficulty hearing conversations and feeling left out - all of which can lead to social withdrawal and depression.
Also, having hearing loss has a possible impact on safety. If you have hearing loss, you might not hear smoke alarms or approaching traffic, for example.
One of the most common types of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), and it is almost completely preventable. While you have healthy hearing, do your best to protect your ears from excessive noise every chance you get.
Protect your ears
We often unintentionally expose ourselves to noisy situations without protection. Here are some everyday activities and times when you could be putting your hearing health at risk:
- Mowing the lawn
- Attending a rock concert
- Walking near heavy traffic
- Setting off or watching fireworks
- Attending sporting events
- Using a saw
- Shooting a gun
- Listening to music that is too loud, either via car radio or through headphones or ear buds
- Being near a construction site
- Riding a motorcycle or going snowmobiling
Sound is measured by decibels, and being exposed to sounds above 85 decibels is potentially damaging to hearing. All of the above sounds are much higher than 85 decibels. If you're unsure how loud is too loud, do the "lawnmower test." If you think the sounds you are exposed to are as loud - or louder than - a lawnmower, it's important to protect your ears and limit how long you are exposed to the noises. You can also use the technology of your smartphone to help you measure the loudness of your environment with several easy-to-use apps.
- Never turn your music up to drown out other sounds. Instead, use sound-isolating or noise-canceling headphones, which block out sounds from the outside so you can listen to your music at a comfortable and safe level.
- Wear hearing protection while at concerts and other loud events, while mowing the lawn, setting off fireworks or participating in recreational activities like shooting, motorcycling and snowmobiling.
- Walk away. If you're at a loud concert or some other event without hearing protection, take a break. Always maintain a safe distance from speakers and give yourself hearing breaks.
- Simply turn down the volume. If you know you're prone to listening to music that is much too loud, just turn the volume down a few notches.
Help protect others
Educate others about noise-induced hearing loss. If you're attending a noisy event or recreational activity with a friend, bring an extra pair of earplugs for him or her to wear.
Also, if you have children who listen to music on a personal device, purchase ear buds or headphones that have a safe sound limit. When giving gifts to children, avoid those that emit loud sounds and opt for quiet toys instead. The Sight and Hearing Association produces an annual list before the holidays each year, which makes note of the top offenders per their testing.
Give up smoking
This is one time that being a quitter will make you a winner. Mounting research suggests that smoking leads to an increased risk of hearing loss. Smoking causes constrictions in your blood vessels, disrupting circulation and cutting off oxygen to certain parts of the body. This can prevent the body from being able to repair damaged hair cells in the ear, leading to permanent hearing damage.
Additionally, a 2011 study by researchers at the NYU School of Medicine found that exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to hearing loss in children and teenagers. So if you quit smoking, you'll be protecting not only yourself, but also those you care about. Even if you have smoked for decades, it is never too late to benefit from quitting this unhealthy habit.
Know the signs
If you know the signs of hearing loss, you may be more likely to get your ears checked and to encourage others who are showing the symptoms to get their hearing checked.
- Having trouble following a conversation, especially when there are two or more people speaking at once
- Straining to hear when there is background noise
- Difficulty talking on the telephone
- Misunderstanding what others say and responding inappropriately
- Difficulty hearing and understanding women's and children's voices
- Often asking people to repeat themselves
- Struggling to hear the TV even when turning the volume up higher than is comfortable for others
If you are living with hearing loss, you can prevent it from getting worse. Beyond that, there is so much you can do this new year to improve your hearing.
Find a local hearing healthcare professional who can check your hearing. A hearing test can reveal exactly what type and degree of hearing loss you have. Your hearing health professional can find the best solutions for you, including hearing aids or other assistive listening devices.
If you've been putting off getting hearing aids, maybe this is the year to try them out. Many clinics offer no-obligation trial periods so you can experience hearing aids firsthand and ensure you have the best solution before committing financially. You can also try assistive listening devices like personal amplifiers which can be great for one-on-one or small group chats.
Practice better communication strategies
Make better hearing and communication a goal for the new year.
- Minimize background noise.
- Be your own best advocate; tell others what you need for better hearing and communication.
- Look for visual cues and ask for information when you need it.
- Be honest when you haven't heard or understood correctly.
- Tell others when you're too tired to concentrate - communicating with hearing loss can be tough work.
- Choose an environment that has ample lighting and close distance to the speaker.
- Keep a sense of humor and don't get discouraged.
This is your year
A new year brings a fresh start and an opportunity to leave bad habits and regrets behind. Addressing health concerns such as that pesky hearing loss can be a springboard for many other positive changes in your life. Don't delay; see a hearing healthcare professional such as one in our extensive directory of consumer-reviewed clinics now so you can enjoy your best year yet.