Do you take your ears for granted? Well, you shouldn’t. Hearing loss is reported as the third most common health problem in the U.S.  (the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults ), right after heart disease and arthritis. If you have normal and healthy hearing, you might wonder how you can do your best to maintain it. Here are some steps that you can proactively take to help maintain your hearing health. And don’t worry, most are quite practical and simple enough to add into your everyday life. (Read more about “The Prevalence of Hearing Loss” here.)
But before you read these 15 ways, please note that these are not going to guarantee your hearing health. These are more precautionary steps to reduce the chances of hearing loss caused by physical damages or exposure to loud noise.
How loud is too loud?
No matter how strong and healthy your hearing is, long-term exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss (some variables include a person’s distance from the noise and length of exposure).
Do you know how loud is too loud? Take this quick quiz to test your knowledge regarding how loud your environment can be .
Here are a few ways to limit hearing damage from loud noise *:
#1- Avoid loud noises
Understand the sound level of your environment and avoid loud noises (take a look at the quiz above for starters).
#2- Use ear protection in loud environments
Consider ear protection in cases where you can’t avoid loud noise. For instance, if you’re at a concert (hopefully a good one!) you can wear proper foam plugs in your ear to avoid hearing loss from loud music. Earplugs are usually made of foam or rubber; they go in the ear canal and can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels.
#3- Avoid getting too close to loud noise when possible
If you see construction equipment working on the street, for example, try to keep your distance from them since their sound level could be too loud. Or if you’re walking down a street where you’ll be exposed to loud car horns for a couple of blocks, try going around it as much as possible.
#4- Take a break for few minutes
Do you work in a loud environment? There is no shame in taking breaks. If you are exposed to loud noises for a prolonged period of time, like at a concert or a bar, your ears need time to recover. If you can, step outside for five minutes every so often in order to let them rest. What’s more, researchers have found that your ears need an average of 16 hours of quiet to recover from one loud night out .
#5- Set the sound volume low
Love listening to music on your phone? Especially when using headphones and earbuds, keep the sound volume to low-mid. Please note that when you are in a loud environment such as subways, using headphones could lead to hearing louder than normal and that means possible harm to your hearing health.
#6- Exercise and physical activity
Studies show that heart health has a direct relation with hearing health . It’s been said that the “ear is a window to the heart” , perhaps there’s something to it after all. Similarly, many other studies show that being physically active is important to prevent heart disease . Therefore, physical exercise might be another way of helping you maintain hearing health . But before you start squat thrusting, make sure to consult with your personal doctor for proper activities that suits your age and health conditions.
#7- Quit smoking
Cigarette smoking may affect hearing through its effects on antioxidative mechanisms or on the vasculature supplying the auditory system [9,10].
Take good care of your ears
#8- Remove ear wax properly
A buildup of wax in your ears can muffle sound. But don’t use a cotton swab to clean them out — they can push wax even deeper. If ear wax gets compacted in your ear, your hearing health professional may need to remove it .
#9- Avoid any physical damage
Putting sharp things into your ears could easily harm your ears (obviously!). Scratching your ear canal for any reasons whatsoever is never a good idea. You could harm your ears and potentially damage your hearing health beyond restoring. Also, scratching your ears could cause an ear infection and these can potentially lead to some levels of hearing loss .
#10- Check your ears regularly
According to research by MarkeTrak (VIII), less than 15% of the United States population has received hearing screening during their physical exam in a single year (2008) from their physician . And yet, hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the US. You should always get your hearing checked by a licensed hearing health professional.
Medications and signs of hearing loss
#11- Check Medications for hearing risks
Medicines that damage the ear and cause hearing loss are known as ototoxic medicines. They are a common cause of hearing loss, especially in older adults who have to take medicine on a regular basis .
If you take a prescription medication, check with your doctor to make sure it won’t make an impact on your hearing health.**
#12- Don’t ignore early signs of hearing loss
If you hear muffling of speech, have difficulty understanding words, especially when in a crowd, or you frequently ask others to speak loudly or slowly, you might want to check your hearing health with a licensed professional. Other Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include challenges hearing consonants, turning up the volume of the TV, or avoiding normal conversations regularly .
Can your diet play a role? ***
Taking care of your body and all of its corresponding parts is no doubt important in the pursuit of overall health. And when it comes to hearing health, you should also look to maximize the health of your ears – they’re an important body part! So it’s obvious that eating unhealthy food and avoiding necessary vitamins could harm your hearing health. Ultimately, there aren’t many reliable studies that prove a direct correlation between specific vitamins or foods and hearing loss, but eating healthily supports an overall better quality of life. So why not? We recommend you to consult with your nutritionist or doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Based on a study in Australia, consuming higher amounts of omega-3s could lead to a lower incidence of age-related hearing loss . Based on another study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, weekly consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and fish may have an inverse association with age-related hearing loss . Fish is considered a great source of omega-3 and having it as a part of your healthy diet could also benefit your general health as mentioned in this study: Essentials of Healthy Eating [A Guide] .
#14- Antioxidant vitamins and magnesium
A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology found that Magnesium deficiencies are associated with susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss . Another study published in the American Society for Nutrition journal shows that dietary intake of antioxidants and magnesium may be associated with lower risks of hearing loss . The presence of free radicals can lead to nerve and tissue damage in the inner ear, and antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals in your bloodstream .
#15- Carotenoids, vitamin A, and vitamin E
One study showed that high doses of magnesium along with vitamins A, and E can help prevent sudden sensorineural hearing loss . Based on another study from the American Society for Nutrition journal, carotenoids (such as carrots and apricots), vitamin A, and vitamin E may be associated with lower risk of hearing loss .
So what did we learn here? [conclusion]
There’s no silver bullet to safeguarding your hearing health, but there are common sense steps you can take, including things you might well have heard from your parents when you were younger or your doctor:
- Take precautionary measures to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
- Take care of your ears, and get them checked routinely.
- But moreover, take care of your overall health, including physical activity and a balanced diet. This will all pay dividends to your overall health and may extend to your hearing health as well.