The healthiest resolutions for your ears in 2016
If you’ve resolved to get healthier in 2016, you’re in good company. Of the top ten New Year’s resolutions in 2015, three of them were health related. Naturally, as hearing health advocates we want you to consider including specific hearing health resolutions on your list. Didn’t make one this year? No worries — it’s not too late. The following habits are healthy for your ears no matter what time of year you decide to adopt them.
Get a baseline hearing exam
If you grew up watching Julie Andrews in "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music" and the last time you had your hearing tested was in grade school, it’s time to get them tested again. Hearing healthcare professionals recommend having a hearing test at age 50 to establish a baseline for your hearing health as your age.
Like most other parts of your body, your hearing changes as you age. While you may not be experiencing any hearing loss now, chances that you will develop some presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) increases as you get older. Much like an ophthalmologist compares the results of your recent eye test to those in your files, so a hearing healthcare professional will use the results of your baseline hearing test to monitor your hearing health.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hearing loss affects:
- 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54
- 8.5 percent of adults age 55 to 64
- 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74
- 50 percent of those who are 75
And if you’re still working, having your hearing tested may actually save you some money. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related illness in the United States and accounts for more than $240 million worker’s compensation claims annually. When the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) conducted a study in 2011, they discovered that people with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in salary and wages annually. Although more than half of Americans age 58 to 64 plan to retire after age 65, the other 50 percent of the workforce plan to continue working. If you’re part of the “other 50 percent," maintaining good hearing health, beginning with a baseline hearing exam, will help maximize your earnings as well as longevity on the job.
Stop using cotton swabs to clean your ears
Of all the things cotton swabs were designed to do, removing ear wax isn’t one of them.
You might actually be causing more harm than good.
- Pushing a cotton swab into your ear canal may compact the ear wax against your ear drum instead of remove it, which can result in conductive hearing loss and an earache.
- Your ear drum is easy to reach with a cotton swab and, therefore, easy to rupture.
- Ear wax is your body’s way of protecting your inner ear from dust, bacteria and other germs. It also protects the skin of your ear canal from becoming irritated by water.
For the most part, your ear canals are self-cleaning; the only help you need to provide is by gently washing the outer ear with a soapy washcloth. If you notice an excessive amount of ear wax or have difficulty hearing, it’s best to let a medical professional remove it.
For more on this subject, be sure to read Why you shouldn’t clean your ears with a cotton swab. And, just in case you received a bundle of cotton swabs in your Christmas stocking and don’t know what to do with them now, we recommend reading 21 hearing-friendly uses for cotton swabs.
Turn down the volume
Play a game the next time you’re in the car. How low can you turn the volume and still comfortably hear the announcer or your favorite music? You can also try this at home with the television.
That might seem foolish until you learn that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is not only the most common type of hearing loss, it’s also 100 percent preventable. According to the NIDCD, people of all ages develop NIHL from one-time exposure to an intense sound, such as an explosion, or from continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as loud music generated from a MP3 player.
How loud is too loud? The NIDCD recommends keeping sounds at 75 decibels or less, especially if your ears are exposed to them for long periods of time. For reference, here are average decibel ratings of familiar sounds:
- 60-65 decibels: normal conversation
- 60-90 decibels: average snoring (we couldn’t resist!)
- 70 decibels: Radio or television audio
- 105 decibels: An MP3 player at maximum volume
- 120 decibels: loud rock concert
If you find you can’t hear the television when others seem to be comfortable, the solution isn’t to increase the volume — it’s to have your hearing tested as quickly as possible and seek treatment if you’re diagnosed with hearing loss. Studies indicate the sooner your hearing is evaluated and any loss is treated, the happier and healthier you’ll be.
Even if you aren’t in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, we encourage you to make healthy hearing one of your priorities in 2016. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to depression, social isolation, reduced alertness, cognitive decline, reduced job performance and earnings and an overall reduction in the quality of life. By incorporating these three habits — getting a baseline hearing exam, washing your ears safely and turning down the volume — you’ll be on your way to Healthy Hearing. Happy New Year!