So How Can You Protect Your Ability to Hear?
The ironic part of hearing loss is that we don’t seem to begin appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the capacity to clearly hear them. We don’t pause to contemplate, for instance, how much we enjoy a good conversation with a close friend until we have to persistently ask them to repeat themselves.
Whether it’s your favorite Mozart record or the sounds of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your total well being is closely connected to your ability to hear—regardless of whether you recognize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this recognition, you’re going to spend quite a bit of time and effort working to get it back.
So how can you protect your ability to hear?
Here are 6 ways you could lose your hearing and what you can do about it.
1. Genetics and Aging
Age-related hearing loss, also called presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that progressively occurs as we get older. Together with presbycusis, there is also some evidence indicating that genetics plays a role, and that some of us are more susceptible to hearing loss than others.
While there’s not much you can do to stop the process of getting older or alter your genetics, you can avoid noise-induced hearing loss from the other sources mentioned below. And keep in mind that age-related hearing loss is significantly more challenging to treat if aggravated by preventable damage.
Continual direct exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss, which is bad news if you happen to own a convertible. New research reveals that driving a convertible with the top down at high speeds generates an average sound level of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists encounter even louder sounds and those who travel on the subway are at risk as well.
So does everybody either have to forego travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not exactly, but you should certainly find ways to limit your collective noise exposure during travel. If you own a convertible, roll up your car windows and drive a little slower; if you ride a motorcycle, put on a helmet and think about earplugs; and if you ride the subway, consider purchasing noise-canceling headsets.
3. Going to Work
As indicated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 22 million workers in the US are exposed to potentially harmful noise volumes at work. The highest risk professions are in manufacturing, farming, construction, the military, and the music industry.
The last thing you need is to spend your total work life amassing hearing loss that will keep you from making the most of your retirement. Talk with your employer about its hearing protection plan, and if they don’t have one, consult with your local hearing specialist for customized solutions.
4. Taking Drugs and Smoking
Smoking impedes blood flow, among other things, which could enhance your risk of developing hearing loss—if you really needed another reason to stop smoking. Antibiotics, potent pain medications, and a significant number of other drugs are “ototoxic,” or toxic to the cells of hearing. In fact, there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications.
The bottom line: try to avoid taking ototoxic drugs or medications unless absolutely necessary. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions.
5. Listening to Music
85 is turning out to be quite an inconvenient number. Almost all of our favorite hobbies produce decibel levels just over this limit, and anything over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. If the threshold were just a little higher, say 100 decibels, we wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.
But 85 it is. And portable mp3 players at full volume reach more than 100 decibels while rock shows reach more than 110. The solution is straightforward: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at concerts, and minimize your length of exposure to the music.
6. Getting Sick or Injured
Certain disorders, such as diabetes, along with any traumatic head injuries, places you at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and consistent tracking of blood sugar levels is essential. And if you ride a motorcycle, using a helmet will help prevent traumatic head injuries.
Talk to Your Hearing Specialist
Although there are several ways to lose your hearing, a few straightforward lifestyle alterations can help you conserve your hearing for life. Remember: the mild inconvenience of wearing custom earplugs, driving with the windows up, or turning down your iPod are slight compared to the major inconvenience of hearing loss later in life.
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