Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues, with the Hearing Loss Association of America reporting that it affects some 48 million Americans - around one-fifth of the US population.
Like the rest of our body, our ears age and our hearing can be affected. So how do you keep yours in pristine condition?
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Understanding the different types of hearing loss is an essential step. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the cochlea (inner ear) or auditory nerve, usually brought on by old age. Meanwhile, conductive hearing loss is when sound is prevented from reaching the cochlea, usually due to a blockage.
Whilst we can’t stop the march of time, it is possible to take steps to reduce your risk of hearing loss. Here are six simple things to try...
1. Check your meds
Certain medicines – specifically ototoxic drugs – can cause damage to the inner ear resulting in hearing loss, balance problems or tinnitus. These include some antibiotics, cytotoxic drugs used in chemotherapy, and some anti-malarials. If you’re worried, speak to your doctor.
2. Watch your weight
A study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts has linked obesity with an increased risk of hearing loss. In the study, the higher the participants’ BMI and waist circumference, the greater their risk. Researchers think this is because the ear relies on a good blood supply to function well, which could be reduced in obese patients.
3. Walk two hours weekly
The same study found women who were physically active had a 17% lower risk of hearing loss than those who were less active. And you don’t have to pound out a marathon to protect your hearing. Simply walking two hours a week can reduce your chances - check out our beginners’ guide to walking to lose weight.
4. Check your jaw
Are you a night-time tooth grinder? If your jaw joint (where it meets your ear) feels sore first thing, there’s a high chance that you are. This can result in inflammation around the ear and contribute to hearing loss. Try wearing a dental guard overnight to break the habit.
5. Avoid cotton buds
The experts’ mantra is ‘never insert anything smaller than your elbow into your ear’ - which means cotton buds are a no-no. They can push earwax deeper into the ear, causing an impaction and prevent the eardrum vibrating properly.
6. Protect your ears
Exposure to any sound at a high volume for more than five hours a week can permanently damage your hearing but you may not notice until it’s too late.
Specsavers audiologist Samantha Dixon advises using ear protection when you think your hearing may be affected, especially if the noise is 85+ decibels (dB). The higher the volume, the less time you should be exposed to it.
Keep the volume down when listening to music, especially through headphones. We recommend using noise-cancelling ones. Wear ear-defenders for noisy jobs, such as construction. Employers should provide them if necessary, but if you are completing noisy DIY tasks, buy your own.
When you’re out and about, stand well away from noisy speakers in nightclubs or public places. If you can’t hear someone two metres away unless they’re shouting, it’s probably too noisy.
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