How to protect your remaining hearing
'Residual hearing' refers to how well you can hear without the use of hearing aids
If you have hearing loss, your remaining natural hearing, or residual hearing, refers to how well you can hear without the use of hearing aids. While you may feel like it doesn't matter now that you have hearing loss, it's actually in your best interest to try your hardest to protect your residual hearing throughout your lifetime.
Why is your residual hearing important?
Why? Chiefly because hearing aids do not cure hearing loss—they merely amplify sounds loud enough so that you can hear them using your residual hearing. They're programmed to your unique pattern of hearing loss, whether you have high-frequency or low-frequency hearing loss, for example.
The more hearing you have to work with, the better job your hearing aids can do, explains Dr. Robert M. Ghent, Jr., a research audiologist and manager of the Howard Leight Acoustical Testing Laboratory for Honeywell Safety Products.
"This is why it is vitally important to protect residual hearing," he explains in a blog post on protecting hearing loss among hearing-impaired workers.
How to protect your residual hearing
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. Hearing aids stimulate your auditory nerve and help keep your brain from "reassigning" brain cells to other activities besides hearing. The loss of nerve cell activity is known as auditory deprivation, and it can happen to anyone, but especially older adults with age-related hearing loss.
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 your hearing care 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.
Wear two hearing aids
While you may have different degrees of hearing loss in both ears, your audiologist will recommend that you get two hearing aids instead of one. The main reasons for this:
Reduce noise exposure as much as possible
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 to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Loud noises can damage the inner ear hair cells, so that your hearing loss will continue to worsen. This is true if you have sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss. Noise damages the hearing nerve.
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 loud 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’re a musician, or see live shows on a weekly basis, consider opting for custom-fitted musician earplugs to protect your hearing while also getting the full dynamic range of sound. For performances on-stage, consider in-ear monitors.
If you take prescription medications for an illness, make sure that you speak with your doctor about your hearing loss. Some drugs can cause hearing problems or cause tinnitus, including high blood pressure medications.
Eat a healthy diet
Several studies have shown that a diet rich in vitamins and minerals can improve blood flow to the inner ear, reduce the amount of free radicals and prevent the loss of hair follicles in the ear.
Stimulate your brain
Learning an instrument can actually improve hearing, according to a study published in the scientific journal PLoS One. Researchers believe that playing a musical instrument focuses on auditory skills, improves auditory memory scores and can increase hearing speech in noisy environments. You can also try auditory training apps, which are fun.
"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. Find a hearing care professional or audiologist near you.