HEARING TIPS

6 Ways to Lose Your Hearing

The ironic part of hearing loss is that we don’t tend to start appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the capacity to clearly hear them. We don’t pause to think about, for example, how much we enjoy a good conversation with a friend until we have to continually ask them to repeat themselves.

Whether it’s your favorite Mozart record or the songs of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your quality of life is closely tied to your ability to hear—whether you realize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this realization, you’re going to commit a whole lot of time and effort trying to get it back.

So how can you safeguard 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 gradually takes place 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 halt the aging process or modify your genetics, you can avoid noise-induced hearing loss from the other sources described below. And keep in mind that age-related hearing loss is a great deal more challenging to treat if aggravated by preventable damage.

2. Traveling

Persistent direct exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss, which is bad news if you happen to drive a convertible. New research suggests that driving a convertible with the top down at high speeds produces an average sound volume of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists face even louder sounds and those who take the subway are at risk as well.

So does everyone either have to abandon travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not exactly, but you should look for ways to reduce 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 consider earplugs; and if you take the subway, give some thought to buying noise-canceling headsets.

3. Going to work

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 22 million workers in the US are subjected to potentially damaging noise volumes on the job. The highest risk careers are in manufacturing, farming, construction, the military, and the music industry.

The last thing you want is to spend your total working life accumulating hearing loss that will keep you from making the most of your retirement. Speak to your employer about its hearing protection plan, and if they don’t have one, consult with your local hearing specialist for custom 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. All of our favorite activities yield decibel levels just above this threshold, and any sound over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. If the threshold were just slightly 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 simple: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at concerts, and limit your length of exposure to the music.

6. Getting sick or injured

Specific ailments, such as diabetes, along with any traumatic head injuries, places you at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, frequent exercise, a balanced diet, and frequent tracking of glucose levels is critical. And if you ride a motorcycle, wearing a helmet will help prevent traumatic head injuries.

Talk to Your Hearing Specialist

While there are many ways to lose your hearing, a few easy lifestyle adjustments can help you conserve your hearing for life. Keep in mind: the modest hassle of wearing custom earplugs, driving with the windows up, or turning down your iPod are slight in comparison to the substantial inconvenience of hearing loss later in life.

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