Understanding why our hearing can get worse with age.
As we age, the tiny hair cells in our ears that help us to pick up sound begin to deteriorate. Throughout our lives this can be exacerbated by loud noise, a leading cause of hearing loss, as well as health conditions like cancer and chemotherapy.
Treatments for common age-related conditions like high blood-pressure, diabetes and associated medications, including aspirin, diuretics and anti-inflammatories, can also damage hearing and are also things to look out for as we get older. A common cause of temporary hearing loss is the build-up of ear wax, but identifying the condition early means the condition can be treated and hearing can return to normal. Many of us view hearing loss as just another part of getting older, like wrinkles or aching joints. While this is to some extent true, there are steps that you can take to minimise the toll that age takes on your hearing.
Here are some simple ways to help you protect your hearing:
Be more aware of noise
Noise-induced hearing loss can be immediate or it can be the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to loud noise. It is often associated with workplace noise but it is important to remember that there are everyday situations and leisure activities that can put you at risk. So you could suffer noise-induced hearing loss even though you are no longer working.
Concerts, sporting events and using portable hearing equipment at the gym are just three examples of situations where hearing damage could occur without you realising it. Try to be more aware of noisy situations and take steps to protect your ears; like asking for music to be turned down, standing further away from the sound, taking regular breaks or using ear protection.
Adjust your appliances and devices
A lawnmower can deliver a noise that is above safe levels if used for more than 15 minutes. It is just one of the noisy items we might use on a daily basis. Think about the appliances and devices you use regularly and:
- Adjust the sound on your TV and portable devices
- Check the volume on your mobile phone
- If you’re using headphones to listen to music or your favourite programmes, ensure no one else can hear; if they can it is too loud
- Place noisy appliances on a rubber mat to reduce noise levels and close the door between you and your washing machine when it is on spin
These are all practical little steps you can take to reduce everyday household noise.
Wear ear protection
According to the British Journal of Hospital Medicine, hearing loss is on the increase in the UK and noise-induced hearing loss is the second major cause. With this in mind, using ear protection like earplugs and ear muffs in noisy environments is a sensible step to take. Don’t worry that you won’t be able to hear the music at a concert or follow a conversation at a noisy venue, there are some earplugs on the market will still let you hear clearly without damaging your hearing.
Keep your ears clean and wax free
The production of ear wax is a perfectly natural and essential part of our ears’ functioning, protecting them from dust, infection and foreign objects. Leaving this to build up, can however cause sounds to become muffled. Hearing aids and headphones can also prevent wax from leaving the ear naturally; as more and more of us are using headphones daily, this is even more important to bear in mind.
Attempting to manually remove ear wax at home can cause blockages and so it is recommended that you speak to your pharmacist about over the counter treatments to soften and remove ear wax, and if the problem persists, visit your GP.
Check your medicines for hearing risks and talk to your doctor
Ototoxicity is the term used to describe the property of being toxic to the ear. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA), there are over 200 chemicals and medicines that are ototoxic, which can cause damage to your hearing. It may be difficult or impossible to avoid using these medications as a result of treatment for other health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and other age-related illnesses. Some antibiotics are also known to cause temporary hearing loss. The ASLHA recommends regular hearing tests and working with your doctor and an audiologist to mitigate the effects.
Have your hearing tested
A hearing test will measure your ability to hear certain sounds and will identify and help pinpoint possible causes of any hearing loss. Having your hearing tested regularly, or when you suspect there is a problem, can help you to ensure that temporary hearing loss doesn’t become permanent or take steps to prevent further damage.
How can I tell if I have a hearing problem?
If you are noticing changes in the quality of your hearing this may be a warning sign that you need to get it professionally tested. Signs that you may have a hearing problem include:
- Difficulty following a conversation in a group or against background noise
- A general sense that sounds seem muffled
- Other people complain that your TV or radio is too loud
- You misunderstand what people say
- You have a problem hearing people
You can read more about hearing testing here.