How to Prevent Hearing Loss
While hearing loss may seem like a normal part of aging, even “age-related” hearing loss is largely preventable. In fact, age-related hearing loss is often the product of damage, over time, to the cilia in your ear. Cilia are sensitive hairs that pick up sound waves and send sound information to the brain to be interpreted. Unfortunately, these tiny hairs can be damaged from loud noises, infections, compacted ear wax or simply high blood pressure.
Avoid Exposure to Loud Sounds
Loud noises, especially high-pitched noises, are one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Preventing hearing loss starts with evaluating your daily life and determining whether you’re exposing your ears to damaging noise.
While it might not be completely feasible to completely avoid loud noises, anticipating situations where they might be damaging is the first step in preventing hearing loss. From gardening tools and heavy machinery to turning your earphones up past half-way, it’s surprisingly easy to overexpose your ears to loud noises. Even cruising with your windows down and your music up will affect your hearing over time. In general, you want to avoid being exposed to any noise 85 decibels or more for longer than an hour. Some intensities, like a gunshot or fireworks display, can cause hearing damage almost immediately.
Consider how loud these common sounds are:
- Sirens – 110 dB
- Concerts 110 – 115 dB
- Garbage truck – 100 dB
- The subway is 88 dB
- Gunfire 130 dB
- Average city traffic is 80 dB
Simple steps like using ear protection if you work in a noisy environment or wearing earplugs to a concert can make a big difference.
8 More Unexpected Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss
- Loud noise isn’t the only way to damage your hearing. Here are 8 additional things you can do to help prevent hearing loss.
- Don’t put anything in your ears that doesn’t belong there.
- Be careful cleaning your ears.
- Get head and ear injuries treated immediately. What you do in the hours immediately after head trauma can dramatically affect your ability to hear later. Seek medical attention immediately.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid excessive drinking.
- Get treated for high blood pressure.
- Use ear protection for concerts, fireworks displays, hunting, and other times when you think you might be exposed to loud noises.
- Maintain a heart-healthy diet. Diets designed to lower your blood pressure are also good for your ears.
Why wait? You don’t have to live with hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is fairly common and might explain why you can hear a pin drop, but not be able to make out what your partner is saying. You’re born with tiny hairs called cilia in your inner ear that move when sound waves are present. Nerves translate the movement of these tiny hairs into information that goes to your brain where it gets interpreted into distinct sounds and frequencies.
The better the movements are interpreted, the more easily you’re able to hear distinctions between sounds such as “D” and “T” or hear letters like “S”, “H” and “F”. Unfortunately, the cilia are extremely delicate and can be harmed by loud noise or other trauma.
Cilia also help your brain determine how loud a sound is, where it’s coming from, and how far away it is.
The Most Common Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when these tiny hairs are damaged. Often, this type of hearing loss is gradual, which is why many people associate it with aging. It’s thought that animals are able to regrow these hairs and regain their hearing when their cilia get damaged, but humans don’t seem to have this ability naturally.
Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:
Head injuries or other trauma
Diseases like diabetes or autoimmune disease
High blood pressure
How to Deal with Sensorineural Hearing Loss
While there are no current medical treatments to heal cilia, you can successfully address sensorineural hearing loss with hearing technology such as hearing aids.