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Healthy habits to fight hearing loss

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 off by vowing to fight hearing loss and improve and protect your hearing. Here's what you need to know:

The stats

Around 36 million Americans - or 17 percent of the U.S. population - are currently living with some degree of hearing loss. Age is strongly associated with a greater risk for hearing loss. For example, 18 percent of adults between the ages of 45 and 64 have hearing loss, while it affects 30 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74. And, 47 percent of adults 75 or older are living with hearing loss.

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 do to extremely loud toys, exposure to loud music through ear buds or recreation activities like hunting or riding snowmobiles, for example.

hearing loss preventionPrevention

If you don't have a hearing loss, it might be difficult to imagine the impact hearing loss has on quality of life. But even a minor hearing loss, left untreated, can lead to lack of confidence, damaged relationships, 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. Someone with untreated hearing loss might not hear smoke alarms or approaching traffic, for example.

While you have healthy hearing, do your best to protect your ears from the chance of developing hearing loss at an early age. Here's what you can do:

Protect your ears

We often expose ourselves to very noisy situations without protection. Here are some environments and times when you might be exposed to damaging noise:

  • Mowing the lawn
  • Attending a rock concert
  • Walking near heavy traffic
  • Setting off 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.

Here are some ways you can protect your ears:

  • 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, never purchase toys that are too loud. 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

Though it's not certain, some long-standing research suggests that smoking leads to an increased risk of hearing loss, and it is proportional to how much you smoke. This is because smoking causes constrictions in the blood vessels, disrupting the blood flow and cutting off oxygen to certain parts of the body. Regarding the ears, this can stop the body from being able to repair damaged hair cells in the ear, leading to permanent hearing damage.

Additionally, a July 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 you'll be protecting yourself and others in a variety of ways, including possibly preventing hearing loss, when you quit smoking.

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
  • Having a conversation over the telephone is extremely difficult
  • Misunderstanding what others say and responding inappropriately
  • It's especially difficult to hear and understand women's and children's voices
  • Often asking people to repeat themselves
  • It seems that others are always mumbling
  • People complain that the TV volume is up way too high while you struggle to hear

Improve hearing

If you are living with hearing loss, you can still take the above measures to protect your remaining hearing. But there's also much you can do this new year to improve your hearing, especially if you are not currently treating your hearing loss.

Get your hearing checked

Have your general practitioner perform a simple hearing test and then refer you to an audiologist for further testing. This is important because an audiogram can reveal exactly what type and degree of hearing loss you have. Your audiologist or hearing health professional can then assess the best solutions for you, including hearing aids or other assistive listening devices.

Vow to try something new

If you've been putting off getting hearing aids, maybe this is the year to try them out. Many clinics have hearing aids that you can try for a few weeks or months before buying them to see if they're the right solution for you. You can also try out assistive listening devices like personal amplifiers, which can be great for one-on-one or small group chats, such as at lunch or in the car.

Practice better communication strategies

Make better hearing and communication a goal for the new year. Do your best to:

  • Minimize background noise.
  • 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.

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