Healthy hearing allows us to socialize, work and even relax. It also helps provide awareness of our environment and alerts us to possible danger. So how many of us are taking measures to protect this important sense?
Apparently, not enough.
A 2017 report by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH) revealed that nearly one in four adults in the United States, ages 20 to 69, has signs of hearing loss from noise. Up to 16 percent of teens ages 12 to 19 have reported some hearing loss that could be caused by loud noise, according to the CDC.
“Noise all around us, at work, at home, at school and outside, can lead to hearing loss if we are exposed to it for too long,” says Madalasa Bista, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center, Oceanside.
The good news is that significant hearing loss from noise can be prevented.
In the simplest terms, the louder the sound the less time you can safely listen to it. The most prevalent culprit today is recreational noise from MP3 players, music festivals and indoor concerts and clubs.
Continued exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss. To put this in perspective, a normal conversation is about 60 dB, office noise is about 70, a lawn mower is about 90 dB and a loud rock concert can be about 120 dB.
Try these five tips to keep your hearing healthy.
1. Minimize pressure changes
Sudden changes in air pressure from flying or scuba diving can damage the eardrum, middle ear or inner ear and lead to hearing loss. During flight ascent and descent, chew gum, use a decongestant nasal spray, or yawn and swallow to activate the muscles in your ears. Or, use filtered earplugs to slowly equalize the pressure against your eardrums.
2. Don’t smoke
Smoking restricts oxygen-rich blood flow to the cochlea — the auditory portion of the inner ear — which can damage hearing over time.
“This is one more reason to quit smoking,” says Dr. Bista. “Secondhand smoke is damaging as well, so avoid breathing it.”
3. Take medications only as directed
About 200 medications — considered “ototoxic” drugs — can damage the ear, resulting in hearing loss, ringing in the ear or balance disorders. “Some antibiotics and water pills can damage your hearing,” says Dr. Bista. “Check with your doctor about the potential impact of any medications you're taking on your hearing. If you have to take a medication that may harm your ears, consider having your doctor check your hearing and balance before and during treatment.”
Routine workouts are good for your ears, as well as for your overall health. When your heart rate increases, healthy blood is pumped into your inner ears, helping to keep them at their best.
5. Wear ear plugs and avoid loud volume on headphones
You might enjoy listening to your favorite tunes full-blast, but using headphones or earbuds to do so could cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. To protect your hearing, lower the volume and limit your listening time.
“Earplugs, usually of rubber or foam, can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels,” says Dr. Bista. “You can also consider earmuffs that fit completely over your ears and also reduce sounds by 15 to 30 decibels.”
When it comes to preserving your hearing, Dr. Bista recommends that children and adults have their hearing screened once a year as part of a routine physical and to always protect their hearing.