Hear Us Out: Prevent Hearing Loss before It Sets In

As we age, many of our functions gradually decline. Unfortunately, one of those functions is our hearing. Being able to hear sounds is crucial; it warns us of danger, enables us to maintain social relationships, and allows us to enjoy music. Currently, 15% of people in America ages 20 and up suffer from “moderate or greater” hearing loss. This number is expected to rise as the population ages.

There are many causes and types of hearing loss. It is important to be aware of each of them so that you can preserve your hearing for as long as possible. The main thing to remember is to avoid prolonged loud noises.

Types of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The main reason hearing loss occurs as we get older is that the tiny hairs in our inner ear (cochlea) become damaged or die. These hairs do not regrow, so the hearing loss is permanent. However, there are technological devices which can help reduce the symptoms of this type of hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss can also add onto the effects of age-related hearing loss (called presbycusis), causing it to occur earlier on in life. Both noise-related hearing loss and presbycusis are types of sensorineural hearing loss.

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Conductive Hearing Loss

While sensorineural hearing loss involves the inner ear, conductive hearing loss involves a problem with the outer or middle ear. It can be caused by too much earwax, ear infections, or a punctured eardrum. This type of hearing loss can be either temporary or permanent.

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Mixed Hearing Loss

As the name suggests, mixed hearing loss is a combination of both conductive hearing loss and sensorimotor hearing loss.

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Consequences of Hearing Loss

Of course, hearing loss can be detrimental. If you cannot hear screams, sirens, or other sounds of danger, you may not get out of the way in time. Not only that, but the quality of your conversations will decline if you’re having trouble hearing other people. On top of all this, there are some other serious consequences of hearing loss.

One study found that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to suffer from depression than those without hearing loss. This may have something to do with the social isolation that results from hearing loss. There is also a higher risk of cognitive deficits among those with hearing loss.

Fortunately, there are measures we can take to prevent hearing loss and the consequences that follow it.

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10 Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss

Avoid Loud Noises

As previously mentioned, noise is one of the main causes of premature hearing loss. So, it’s best to avoid extremely loud noises when you can. Some loud noises to avoid are: rock concerts, power tools (such as hand drills and chainsaws), gunfire, and the maximum volume on personal music players.

You can tell if a sound is too loud if you can’t hear someone who is three feet away, you have to raise your voice to be heard, or have a pain or ringing in your ears.

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Wear Hearing Protection

Sometimes, you cannot avoid loud noises. For example, if you work with machinery which exceeds 85 decibels. In these cases, you should wear earplugs or earmuffs to protect your ears.

Earplugs are the less expensive option and they are very convenient to use. However, they offer less protection than ear muffs, as they should not be used in areas with noise levels over 105 decibels. Care must also be taken to ensure they remain clean.  Earmuffs and earplugs can be worn together for extra protection.

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Quit Smoking

We are all aware that smoking can damage our teeth and lungs, but did you know it can damage your hearing, too? Smokers are more than 70% more likely to suffer hearing loss than non-smokers. Even being exposed to smoke consistently increases one’s risk of hearing loss. The risk increases as the duration of smoke exposure increases.

So, how exactly does smoking affect your hearing? Well, the nicotine and carbon dioxide from the smoke can tighten your blood vessels, restricting blood flow to the inner ear. This leads to the tiny hairs in your ears being damaged. Nicotine also affects neurotransmitters in the auditory nerves and promotes damaging free radicals in our bodies.

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Remove Earwax Properly

Most people use cotton swabs to remove earwax, but this pushes earwax back into your ear and may even rupture your eardrum if pushed too far into your ear. A better way to remove earwax is to soak a cotton ball with water and let a few drops go into your ear, as your head is tilted with your ear opening facing upwards. Then, tilt your head the other way to let the fluid and wax drain out. You can also buy eardrops which break up earwax, making it easier to remove.

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