Have you ever stood next to someone and heard the music coming from their earbuds? If so, it’s highly likely that they were doing damage to their ears and causing hearing loss.
It used to be that we associated hearing loss with the elderly, but with more and more noise pollution all around us, young adults are showing signs of hearing loss, too. In fact, hearing loss is the 3rd most common health problem in the U.S., affecting over 36 million Americans!
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
If it seems like everyone around you is mumbling more these days, you may be experiencing hearing loss. How can you tell? Here are some of the symptoms:
- Sounds and speech sound muffled, and consonants like “S” and “F” are harder to hear
- Hearing is difficult, especially when there’s background noise or multiple people speaking
- Needing to ask others to speak more slowly, clearly, and/or loudly
- Others complain that the TV or music is on too loud
- Experiencing tinnitus – ringing, roaring, or hissing sounds in the ears
Causes of Hearing Loss
Not surprisingly, exposure to loud noise is the most common culprit when it comes to hearing deterioration, but other causes can include:
Age. With age, the structures in the ear lose elasticity, the tiny hairs get damaged, and response to sound waves is diminished.
Illness or infection. Many illnesses like measles, mumps, syphilis, and meningitis can cause hearing loss. So can conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, which interfere with blood flow to the ears. Ear infections can also cause temporary hearing loss due to fluid buildup in the middle ear, and if left untreated, permanent damage can occur.
Medications. Hearing loss can be a side-effect of many drugs, including antibiotics, chemotherapy medications, aspirin, diuretics, antimalarials, and those used to treat erectile dysfunction.
Trauma. Trauma to the ears or head, like a perforated eardrum or fractured skull, can result in changes in hearing.
Genetics. Recent research has identified a gene associated with age-related hearing loss.
High Tech Solutions for Hearing Loss
Fortunately, today’s technology offers many more solutions for better hearing and at a variety of price points.
Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) like the Soundhawk Smart Listening System are fully digital and are more affordable than traditional hearing aids, which can run in the thousands.
And major companies like Samsung are also developing “hearables,” meaning more options will be available in the future.
How to Protect Your Hearing
Whether you’ve already started to experience some hearing loss or are just worried about protecting your hearing for the future, here are some easy-to-follow tips:
Avoid Loud Noises. A work site, a concert, or even your kitchen appliances can be too loud. If you have to shout to hear, then it’s loud enough to do damage. Hearing loss can be affected by both loudness and duration, so limit exposure to both.
Use Protection. Plan ahead if you know you’re going to be somewhere noisy. Earplugs made of foam or rubber can be placed in your ear canal to reduce noise, and you can find them at the drugstore or even have a pair custom-fitted for your ears. Earmuffs that cover your ears can also reduce the amount of noise you hear, but make sure they fit tightly.
Quit Smoking. Smokers are 1.7 times more likely to have hearing loss compared to nonsmokers. Exposure to second hand smoke is also damaging to hearing, so avoid cigarette smoke whenever possible.
Eat More Fish & Take an Omega-3 Supplement. Recent studies have shown that regular fish consumption and higher intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are associated with lower risk of hearing loss in both men and women. Eat at least 2-3 servings of fish rich in omega-3s, like mackerel, sardine, anchovy, or salmon, or take a high-quality fish oil supplement like VitaMedica’s Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil.
Get Tested. If you’re concerned about hearing loss, take a hearing test. The National Hearing Test developed by the National Institutes of Health can help determine if you need a full hearing evaluation, and as an added bonus, it’s free for AARP members.
Just like protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays prevents wrinkles, protecting your hearing will help you communicate and stay connected as you age. So listen to the experts and take early precautions to preserve your hearing!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.