Loss of hearing is a common occurrence for most people. There comes a time when you notice one of your older relatives struggling to listen in on a conversation. Or perhaps you may even notice that sometimes you are struggling to hear the noises around you. The reality is that a significant amount of people will begin to recognize a change in their hearing as they continue to age. That loss of hearing is the eventual impact caused by the years of listening to sounds.
The degree of hearing loss and how quickly it advances is best handled with prevention, as is true for most life cases. During your later years in life, the effects of hearing loss will depend on the decisions you have made in your younger years. It is something everyone needs to consider sooner rather than later. Doing so will ensure you lessen the chances of advancement of hearing loss.
Chances are, you want to keep your hearing from worsening as you get older, but what can you do to prevent it?
Understand Hearing Loss
It all begins with understanding how the ears work and what causes the majority of hearing loss. Age-related hearing, otherwise known as presbycusis, is affecting one in three people in the U.S. from the ages of 65 to 74. Furthermore, nearly half of those aged 75+ have difficulty with hearing. It happens due to a cumulation of damage done to the ears over the years.
Hearing loss also impacts a significant amount of people earlier in life. A study conducted in 2011 on the epidemiology of hearing loss recorded a hearing loss in 11% of the participants aged 45 to 54 and 25% of those aged 55 to 65. Presbycusis starts slowly, but then it starts to get progressively worse as you age.
Your ear canal funnels sound waves that are amplified several times before it reaches the inner ear. When it reaches this part of the ear, the sound waves begin to vibrate the tiny hair cells in the cochlea, leading them to activate and release chemicals to generate an electrical message which the brain interprets as a sound. Due to the constant vibrational bombardment, the tiny hairs begin to fail over time and eventually quit entirely.
The problem with losing these tiny hair cells is the fact that they do not grow back. Without these small hair cells to create the electrical signals, the sounds will not be translated appropriately into a language your brain understands.
The cause behind the hair cell damage can be significantly increased by several factors, but it can be anticipated, to a certain extent, as part of aging. A word like volume refers to the power behind a sound wave. The amount of damage your hair cells receive depends on how powerful the sound waves are, which means being wary of higher volumes of sounds.
However, being exposed to loud noises isn’t the only factor that causes damage to your hair cells. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure can impact your hair cells as well.
Age-related hearing loss will usually happen in both ears, impacting them equally. Due to the gradual loss of hearing, if you have age-related hearing loss, you may remain unaware of the fact that you have lost some level of hearing capability.
There are several factors to age-related hearing loss. The most common ones arise due to changes in the inner ear as we age, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear or complicated changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Particular medical conditions and ototoxic medications can influence a person’s hearing.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three different types of hearing loss that you should be aware of:
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an obstruction or damage to the outer or middle ear that prevents sound from being passed to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss could be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. The causes for conductive hearing can be differentiated, depending on the part of the ear being affected.
Conductive hearing loss can happen for several reasons, including:
- Ear Infection with inflammation and fluid build-up
- A defective eardrum
- A perforated eardrum
- Excessive amounts of earwax have a build-up
- Malfunction of the ossicles
Ear infection can cause scar tissues to appear, which could potentially reduce ear function. The ossicles can become impaired as a result of trauma, infection, or a blend of those two, which is known as ankylosis.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. It is permanent hearing loss that happens when there is damage to either the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve itself, which prevents or weakens the transfer of nerve signals to the brain.
Hearing loss is usually caused by dysfunction of the inner ear, the cochlea, auditory nerve, or brain damage. That type of hearing loss is ordinarily due to the damage of the hair cells in the cochlea. As humans continue to grow older, these hair cells lose some of their ability to recognize sounds and send signals to the brain, and causes hearing loss.
Prolonged exposure to loud noises, especially high-frequency sounds, is another reason why these hair cells get damaged. Sensorineural deafness could happen due to head trauma, congenital deformities, or inner ear infections.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can occur when the ear sustains some kind of trauma. It can also happen gradually over time when one of the symptoms of hearing loss is compounded by another. For instance, a person who has a long-standing conductive hearing loss could experience age-related hearing loss as they grow older. On the other hand, a person with age-related hearing loss could be diagnosed with a temporary combination of hearing loss because of wax impaction.
Protecting your hearing
Over time, you are going to be dependent on good hearing hygiene to protect your ears. Volume is a primary source of concern for hearing loss. When a sound is at a higher frequency or decibel level, it is exceptionally more harmful to the ears. It may not take as much as you think to cause damage to your ears. If you need to raise your voice because the noise near you is too loud, then you are in an area that is contributing to your hearing loss.
Your hearing will be affected later on by even a few minutes of loud noises and even more by regular exposure to loud noises. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to take precautions to defend your hearing when you expect to be around loud noises. Consider wearing hearing protection when you are planning to do these activities:
- Go to a concert or party
- When you are using a power tool like saws
- Riding a motorcycle
- Anything that involves loud noises
Things like earbuds, headphones, and other related accessories made to amplify and isolate sounds should be used sparingly or avoided altogether. Earbuds have become somewhat prevalent in recent years due to the increase in smartphones and laptops. If used at high volume, it will cause more damage than the previous generation’s love for boom boxes and Walkmans.
The closer the sound gets to your eardrum, the louder it becomes. The level of sound is increased because it is isolated and trapped. That increase leads to a severe risk of damaging your hearing.
Consider listening to music through the speaker instead and have the volume low enough to hear. Remember, if you need to shout over the noise around, then you are experiencing something too loud for your ears to handle.
Everyday sounds will become an issue.
There is going to be a time when everyday sounds start to become a harmful threat to your hearing. With the way technology has evolved in the last couple of years, appliances and other home devices have noise ratings attached to them to warn you of their noise levels so that you can determine the potential risk to your hearing health. You need to be proactive and purchase appliances and devices that have a low noise rating.
If a noise gets far too loud when you are out at a party or restaurant, don’t hesitate to let them know about the issue. If you are in a restaurant, a manager would likely be willing to turn the background music down for you or possibly move you to another table away from the noisy speakers and smacking dishes.
Be conscious of the noise around you.
There will be times when you won’t be able to avoid the sounds that happen around you. It could be something like the blaring noise of an ambulance siren or the jackhammer going off on your street. You should attempt to limit the amount of time you have to be around these noises.
However, if you are working in a job that subjects you to loud noises such as construction equipment, you need to do something about it. If your employer is not providing you with any hearing protection, purchase your own. You could get either some earplugs, earmuffs, or headphones to defend your ears. Make sure you let your boss know about this as there is a good chance they will listen.
Keep in mind that noise-induced hearing loss happens due to the loudness of sounds and how long you are subjected to them.
Wear Hearing Protection
If you are planning to be around loud noises for longer than a couple of minutes, you should consider wearing hearing protection.
Earplugs are made up of either rubber or foam. They are inserted into your ear canal and are capable of reducing noises by 15 to 30 decibels. Earplugs can be purchased right off the shelf, or you can have some custom-made to fit your ears. Some earplugs are even capable of lowering noise levels evenly across every frequency. They are beneficial for people who need to make noises quieter but undistorted, such as musicians.
Another option would be earmuffs. These are capable of fitting over your ears entirely and reduce the sounds somewhere between 15 to 30 decibels. Just make sure the pair you buy is capable of fitting tightly around both of your ears to block the noise. Furthermore, you can wear both your earplugs and earmuffs together for even better protection.
Alcohol, Smoking, and Vaping
There are tons of excellent reasons why someone should give up smoking, and you can include hearing loss on that long list of reasons. Studies have shown that cigarette smoke, whether it be directly or secondhand, can have a significant impact on your hearing health. Plus, smokers are more likely to experience age-related hearing loss. Heavy consumption of alcohol is also capable of affecting your hearing since it can create a toxic environment inside your ears.
Vaping doesn’t have too many studies when it comes to the effects it has on hearing loss since it is relatively new to the consumer market. However, anecdotal reports connecting it to sudden hearing loss do exist.
Properly remove ear wax.
Allowing wax to build in your ears will result in a muffled hearing. If this does happen to you, do not use cotton swabs to clean them out, you could potentially push the wax even deeper. In this case, you may consider using an at-home irrigation kit to soften up the wax build-up and gently wash it out. If it gets compacted inside your ear, consult a doctor about having it removed.
Keep in mind that cleaning your ears improperly can also damage them. If cleaned incorrectly or roughly, it may eventually lead to more severe hearing issues as you age in life.
Look over your medication.
More than 200 drugs that are capable of damaging your hearing exist and have been approved for use. These include several types of antibiotics, cancer-fighting drugs, and anti-anxiety medications. Even ingesting high doses of aspirin can cause harm to your ears. If you are taking prescription medications, make sure to check with your doctor to ensure it won’t cause any issues to your hearing. If you need to take medication that could potentially hurt your ears, make sure your doctor frequently checks your balance and hearing before and during your recommended treatment.
Exercise and lower stress levels
Exercising can help improve your health in all sorts of ways. Engaging in daily exercises can reduce stress, improves your blood flow, ear and physical health. Be sure that you are mindful of the volume of your music while you are exercising as there is a history of documented hearing damage from listening to loud music while exercising and weight training. Furthermore, high levels of stress are detrimental for your hearing, so make sure you manage to keep your stress levels under control.
Hearing loss is something that everyone is going to experience eventually. That said, you can take appropriate measures to ensure you manage to prevent as much damage to your years as you get older. The information we have provided above will ensure you take the correct steps towards protecting your hearing through the coming years.