Are you doing everything possible to protect yourself from hearing loss? In this special “Sound Advice” blog post, we’ll walk you through the “three pillars” of hearing loss prevention.
Pillar #1: Proactive health management
Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) are two common health conditions that, if not appropriately managed, may pose a risk to your hearing health.
Although the connections to hearing are not fully understood, it’s possible that both conditions damage blood vessels in the inner ear, interfering with vital blood flow. It’s important for a lot of reasons — including good hearing health — to see a physician and follow the prescribed treatment plan if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
If you’re a smoker, you already know that quitting reduces your risk for a number of serious health conditions. Did you know it may also help protect your hearing? A recent Japanese study found that smokers were up to 70% more likely than nonsmokers to develop hearing loss. Researchers also found that the risk of hearing loss dropped significantly within five year of quitting.
Perhaps you are proactively managing your health, and your regimen includes taking a medication. Be aware of this: More than 200 prescription and over-the-counter drugs are “ototoxic,” meaning they can damage your hearing. Ask your physician or pharmacist about a drug’s potential effects on your hearing and about any non-ototoxic alternatives. (But don’t stop taking a prescribed medication without talking to your doctor.)
Overall health affects hearing health in other ways that may be beyond your control. For example, babies born prematurely are at an increased risk for hearing loss. In addition, many people are genetically predisposed to hearing loss.
If you’re in a high-risk group, get your hearing tested regularly. This will enable your hearing health care professional to identify any changes in your hearing ability and, if necessary, provide prompt treatment. The sooner hearing loss is treated, the more you may reduce your risk of social isolation, depression, dementia and injury-causing falls.
Pillar #2: Smart buying decisions
Everyday consumer products, such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers and hair dryers, can generate dangerous noise levels, especially if you use them on a regular basis. Fortunately, you can find most of these products in models with lower noise outputs.
For example, some of the quieter hair dryers available today produce 50 to 70 dB compared to 85 to 100 dB (a potentially dangerous level) for many traditional models. Gas-powered leaf blowers can be notoriously loud — 90 to 100 dB at the operator’s ear — while certain models of electric or battery-powered blowers generate from 60 to 70 dB.
Earbuds (see additional discussion below) can deliver 100 dB or more directly to the user’s inner ear — far too loud for extended listening. Most at risk are children and teens, who may not possess the good judgment to keep the volume at a safe level. Thanks to advances in technology, you now can purchase safer personal listening products, such as volume-limiting headphones and devices that automatically lower the volume once young users have reached 100% of their weekly “allowance.”
Pillar #3: Protection from noise
A previous “Sound Advice” blog post discussed the different ways noise causes hearing loss. It can happen in an instant, such as when you’re in close proximity to exploding fireworks. Or it can result from prolonged exposure to certain noises like the droning of a lawn mower engine.
Protecting your hearing from noise is one of the easiest things you can do, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Inexpensive foam earplugs, found at the corner drug or big box store, provide adequate protection in many noisy situations. Other types of hearing protection include earmuffs, which are ideal for certain occupations or extremely noisy conditions, and custom-made earplugs for musicians.
Wear hearing protection whenever you’re exposed to sound levels at or exceeding 85 decibels (dB). But how do you know whether the noise has reached a dangerous level? That’s getting easier, too! Because no one wants to lug around a traditional decibel meter, you now can download a dB meter app for your smartphone.
Lastly, as referenced above, let's not overlook the danger presented by personal music players. Did you know that listening through earbuds at maximum volume for just five minutes on a daily basis can damage your hearing? Damage may occur at a lower volume if you listen for an extended period of time. Many experts advise setting the volume at no more than 60% of maximum; at that level, limit your listening to 60 minutes or less per day.
Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to avoid hearing loss. But with early intervention, you can reduce the potential for long-term negative consequences. If you suspect hearing loss or are among the high-risk individuals, we encourage you to take the first step and schedule an appointment through Amplifon Hearing Health Care.