Healthy Hearing Holiday Survival Guide
It’s the end of another year and the holiday season is in full swing. Have you decided what your New Year’s resolutions will be? If you’re waiting a few more weeks to get healthy, you might want to start a little sooner. Welcoming in the New Year with bad habits like smoking and overeating may lead to health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hearing loss.
No worries -- you don't have to sacrifice holiday fun to get a head start on your fitness goals. We’ve got a few tips you can incorporate right now that just might improve your hearing health and, at the same time, increase your chances of success once you usher in the new year.
Obesity and hearing loss
First, the bad news: being overweight taxes your circulatory system and puts you at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes as well as certain types of cancers. Obesity can even be financially risky. Researchers at George Washington University in Washington D.C. discovered that extra weight can cost a man as much as $524 annually, $432 for the average overweight woman.
Your hearing suffers when you’re overweight, too, according to two studies conducted in 2013. Columbia University Medical Center researchers discovered that obese teenagers have double the risk of developing one-sided, low-frequency hearing loss, and researchers from Brigham and Young Women’s Hospital found women with higher BMIs and waist circumferences also had a higher risk for developing hearing loss.
Those who are overweight are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes -- and diabetics are twice as likely to have hearing loss, according to a 1998 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
What does a few extra pounds have to do with hearing loss? Researchers believe excess weight makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood throughout your body, especially to the sensitive structures of the inner ear which rely on good blood flow to work effectively. High blood glucose levels in those with diabetes may damage blood vessels in the inner ear, much like it can damage the eyes and kidneys.
Here’s the good news -- getting the proper amount of exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help preserve hearing health, mainly because increased circulation provides good blood flow and oxygen to your auditory system. In the spirit of moderation, here are a few holiday eating tips to help you keep extra pounds at bay for the remainder of the year:
- Eat something healthy and filling before you go shopping or out with friends. The sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season can be intoxicating. If you’re not hungry, you won’t be as tempted to indulge.
- Fill a small plate at the party and pay attention to what you put on it. Balance each high-calorie item you choose with two that are healthier. Then, stand as far away from the buffet as possible so it's more difficult to go back for seconds.
- Be diligent about getting 30 minutes of exercise each day. A brisk walk can do wonders for lifting your spirits, improving your circulation, and counteracting the extra piece of mom’s pumpkin pie you rewarded yourself with after wrapping the presents.
Smoking and hearing loss
Here’s a sobering statistic. According to the American Cancer Society, half of all people who smoke will die of a smoking-related disease, including lung disease and heart disease to various types of cancers.
Your pocket book probably isn’t much healthier, according to a study by researchers from Duke University and the University of South Florida. They estimate that the lifetime costs associated with smoking are $106,000 for a woman and $220,000 for a man. Additionally, smokers risk not qualifying for health and life insurance, or having to pay higher premiums than nonsmokers.
Smoking can also increase your risk for developing sensorineural hearing loss according to a June 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Of the more than 3,000 adults who participated in the study, those who smoke were almost twice as likely to have hearing loss than those who do not. Nonsmokers who lived with a smoker were also more likely to develop hearing loss than those who lived in a nonsmoking home. If you smoke, the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is quit.
How does smoking affect your hearing? Medical professionals believe the nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes restrict blood flow, preventing oxygen from circulating effectively in your inner ear. This can damage the sensory hair cells of the cochlea, which are responsible for translating the noise your ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. Once those hair cells die or become damaged, they do not regenerate, and your ability to hear different sounds is compromised.
Smoking is a difficult habit to break so going “cold turkey” -- especially during the holidays -- probably isn’t the best idea. If quitting is on your list of resolutions for the New Year, however, there are still a few things you can do right now to prepare:
- Resolve to smoke in one designated area where others won’t be affected by second-hand smoke. It’s still an unhealthy habit for you, but at least you’re sparing your loved ones from the health risks.
- Give your home, office and car a good cleaning, including carpets, draperies, and upholstery. Once they’re clean, don’t smoke in those rooms again until you quit. A clean smelling environment will help you be successful.
- Do some research. Ask your family physician about smoking cessation programs, nicotine-replacement therapies and medications which may help you quit beginning January 1.
If you’re resolving to lose weight, get fit or quit smoking this year, you’re in good company. These are frequently among the top ten resolutions made by the 45% of Americans who believe in this annual ritual. Studies indicate those who make resolutions are ten times more likely to succeed than those who do not.
In that spirit, here’s one more tip to help you prepare for success in the New Year -- make an appointment to have a hearing evaluation. Even if you don’t have hearing loss, the test can serve as a baseline to compare against future evaluations and give you an incentive to break bad health habits which may be damaging your hearing health. Ask your family physician for a referral or search the Healthy Hearing directory to find a hearing healthcare professional and to read verified patient reviews about hearing centers in your community.