During National Women's Health Week, May 11-14, you're going to hear a lot of information from national organizations about how you can manage your health. The week has been set aside by an alliance of government organizations which all hope women will consider incorporating preventive and positive health behaviors into their daily routines. Healthy Hearing wants to join the party by providing you with information specific to women's hearing health.
Importance of communication for women
Helen Keller once said "I would rather have been blind, hearing loss separated me from people, blindness separated me from things." That's not hard to understand coming from a woman, especially when we consider the important role hearing plays in our daily life.
Women are by nature, social creatures. We spend a large majority of our life caring for others, including children, spouses and parents. We use more words on a daily basis than our male counterparts -- 20,000 vs 7,000 according to some experts. We ask advice from other women, like our mothers, grandmothers and girlfriends and depend on our hearing to help us parent our children.
Why women's hearing is different
Hearing is a critical part of the way we communicate. And, like many aspects of life, hearing loss affects our health and quality of life differently than it does for men. For example, although women are more likely to admit they are depressed, they are less likely to report hearing loss. That's concerning because data from 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys indicate the risk for depression increases as hearing impairment worsens.
What's the take away? Monitor your hearing health and address any issues as they occur. This would be a good week to find a hearing health professional in your area and schedule a hearing test, even if you don't think you are having any hearing issues. If you aren't sure where to turn, ask your family physician for a referral or search for a provider on the Healthy Hearing website where you can read real patient reviews of hearing clinics in your immediate area.
Addressing the risks
You may already know that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, but did you know it also affects your hearing health? A study by the Population Health Program Faculty at Wisconsin University found that women with heart disease were 2.7 times more likely to suffer from hearing loss than women in general. Other research indicates a low activity level and a bigger waist size also contributes to hearing loss in women. Now for some good news - exercise can help. The Wisconsin University study revealed that even those who only exercised once a week reduced their risk of developing hearing loss by 32%.
Women aren't more susceptible to cancer than men, but the chemotherapy drugs we take can wreak havoc on our hearing. There might not be much we can do about that at the moment, but we can make a conscious effort to avoid or reduce the amount of other ototoxic medications we take. There are more than 200 medications that can cause ototoxicity. Over the counter medications such as aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Aleve and Motrin, and some antibiotics, loop diuretics and quinine can damage your hearing. If you're currently taking any of these medications and begin to hear ringing in your ears (tinnitus), tell your doctor. She may be able to prescribe something to treat your condition that's healthier for your ears.
If all of this hasn't convinced you to conserve your hearing, consider this: hearing loss affects earning income. A February 2011 study by the Better Hearing Institute revealed people with untreated hearing loss can lose as much as $30,000 annually. Hearing loss affects our productivity, performance and career success. That's something that we can't afford now that women are working and living longer.
The good news is, hearing aids can cut that loss by as much as 90 to 100% for those with mild hearing loss and 65-77% for those with severe to moderate hearing loss. That's significant considering that 60% of the 36 million Americans with hearing loss are part of the work force.
Our aging ears
Although men and women both lose hearing as they age (presbycusis), men tend to lose their hearing in higher frequencies in middle age whereas women's hearing in that frequency may not begin to deteriorate until age 65-70. Hearing well in higher frequencies helps us understand speech in noisy environments.
Fortunately, if our hearing loss is sensorineural in nature or a result of presbycusis, hearing aids can help. According to a 2011 survey by the Better Hearing Institute, eight out of ten users say hearing aids have increased their quality of life; 82 percent say they would recommend hearing aids to their friends. Today's hearing aids are smaller and more effective than they were even ten years ago and digital technology makes it possible to connect wirelessly to our phones, computers and televisions.
There are several things you can do to conserve your hearing. First, make a commitment to have your hearing checked every year, just like you do your eyes and breasts. Address any issues in your hearing according to your physician or audiologist's recommendations. Even if you have mild hearing loss, hearing amplification can improve your quality of life and preserve your cognitive development. Remember, our ears collect noise but it's our brains that process it into recognizable sound so it's important to keep that auditory pathway as healthy as possible.
Secondly, protect your hearing from noisy environments. Although men are more prone to noise-induced hearing loss, women can be affected by it as well. Your hearing can sustain permanent damage when it's exposed to sound levels higher than 80 decibels for extended periods of time. Turn down the volume on the television and your car stereo. Avoid noisy environments if you can and when you can't, wear ear plugs or ear muffs.