Five things you can do right now to improve your hearing health
When you share a health condition with more than 48 million Americans, you might say you’re in good company — or you might wonder what you can do to reduce your risk of belonging to such large group. We’re talking about hearing loss, a problem shared by the young and old alike. While you can’t retain normal hearing forever, there are things you can do to minimize the risk of developing certain types of hearing loss as well as improve your overall health. Here are five things you can do right now.
Wear your hearing aids
If you’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss and the hearing healthcare provider prescribed hearing aids as a treatment, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you wear them as recommended. Amplification provides the boost your ears need to send sound waves to the auditory region of the brain, where it’s processed as recognizable sound. Just like any other muscle in your body, the brain can atrophy when those processes become injured or impaired.
Your hearing isn’t the only part of your body that benefits when you wear your hearing aid:
- Overall general health improves, too. Research indicates individuals who wear hearing aids are less fatigued and more able to concentrate than individuals with untreated hearing loss. The effort you’re expending trying to hear your grandchild tell you a story when you aren’t wearing hearing aids could be the energy you spend taking her to the park when you do.
- Mental health can suffer if you don’t treat hearing loss, especially if you’ve been isolating yourself from social gatherings because you can’t hear well. Researchers from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have found a strong correlation between hearing loss and depression among adults in the United States. Other study results indicate relationships between untreated hearing loss and increased anger, anxiety and social isolation.
Take a walk
Exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your overall health. Is it any surprise it’s good for your hearing health, too? The results of a 2013 published in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that a larger waist circumference and lower physical activity were associated with a greater risk of hearing loss — especially in women. Those in the study who walked an average of two hours each week displayed a reduced risk of hearing loss.
Hearing health professionals believe exercise increases the blood flow to the ear. Good blood flow is essential to the health of the tiny hair cells in the inner ear which are responsible for translating the sound your ears collect into electrical impulses for your brain to translate. These hair cells do not regenerate, so our hearing suffers permanently when they die or are damaged.
If walking isn’t your idea of a good time, find another physical activity you enjoy (hiking, gardening, or golfing for example). The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day at least five times a week and the good news is, you can break these 30 minutes up into three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day. (Please check with your doctor before beginning any physical activity.)
If you’ve been waiting for a good reason to stop smoking, here’s one. According to recent research from the University of Manchester in the UK, smokers are 28 percent more likely to develop hearing loss than non-smokers. The risk for hearing loss increased along with the number of packs of cigarettes smoked and the amount of time the individual had been smoking. The study was published in the May 29, 2014 issue of the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.
Medical professionals believe the nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes tighten your blood vessels, effectively starving your inner ear of the oxygen it needs to keep hair cells in the cochlea healthy. Nicotine can also affect the neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve, preventing them from correctly processing sound.
Fortunately, kicking the habit is almost immediately beneficial to your health. The American Heart Association says your lungs will begin to heal themselves as soon as you stop smoking. Those who quit also reduce their risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and early death from smoking-related disease. Many smoking cessation programs are offered at no charge or reduced cost. The AHA lists these resources to help you quit smoking.
Turn down the volume
Without a doubt, the easiest way to prevent hearing loss is to reduce the volume of the noise in your environment. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates 26 million Americans have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to noise. The good news? Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is completely preventable. The NIDCD lists these suggestions for protecting your hearing from the effects of too much noise:
- Know which noises in your environment are damaging (85 decibels or louder).
- Wear hearing protection whenever you know you’ll be exposed to loud noise.
- If you can’t protect your hearing from the loud noise, move away from it.
- Protect the hearing of children who are too young to protect themselves.
For many of us, just turning down the volume on the television, car radio and personal electronic device is equally beneficial. By the way, if you find you have to have the volume turned up in order to hear, it may be time to have your hearing evaluated by a hearing healthcare professional.
Schedule a hearing evaluation
The best way to improve your hearing health is to establish a relationship with a hearing healthcare professional you trust. This professional can administer a base line hearing evaluation to determine the current health of your hearing and monitor it as you grow older. If your family physician can’t recommend someone to care for your hearing, you can find a trusted hearing clinic in Healthy Hearing’s online directory. Then, make the phone call. The 60 seconds you spend scheduling a hearing evaluation may be the quickest, healthiest step you take toward improving your hearing health.