How to Prevent Hearing Loss

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Approximately 48 million people in the United States report some degree of hearing loss. Your likelihood of experiencing hearing loss increases dramatically as you age. Hearing loss in older adults also coincides with serious symptoms such as depression and social isolation. Studies have also shown that it can lead to decreased compensation for those still working.

Is there something you can do to prevent this?

You might be surprised to know that protecting your hearing now can go a long way toward better hearing later in life. The younger you are when you start taking steps to prevent hearing loss the better your results will be—although you're never too old to protect your hearing.

Loud Noises

Repeated exposure to loud noises (even if the noise doesn't seem that loud to you at the time) can damage the tiny hair cells inside your ear. Unfortunately, these cells do not regenerate, meaning that any damage is permanent. Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss here in the United States, and it is 100 percent preventable. Many people are exposed to loud noises on a regular basis as a part of their occupation. For example, those who work in construction or with heavy machinery may be exposed to loud noise on a daily basis. If steps are not taken to protect hearing, over time this will result in noise-induced hearing loss.

Even if you are not exposed to loud noise as a part of your profession, listening to loud music or even mowing the lawn can damage the special cells inside of your ear. There are two factors that determine whether hearing is actually lost when it comes to noise exposure. One is how loud the noise is (in decibels) and the other factor is how long you are exposed to that noise.

Most medical experts agree that noises over 80 decibels are loud enough to damage your hearing, but how do you know how many decibels a sound is? Most of us are not accustomed to routinely measuring how loud certain sounds are, so to give you an idea of how much 80 decibels is, here is a list of some common sounds with the approximate decibel range of each:

  • normal talking, the dishwasher, the clothes dryer (60-65 dB)
  • a busy street, vacuum cleaner, your alarm clock, lawn mower (70-85 dB) 
  • blow dryer, blender, food processor (80-90 dB)
  • hand drill, snowblower, chain saw (100-110 dB)
  • maximum output of many music players (112 dB)
  • siren, a jet taking off, average rock concert (120 dB)
  • jackhammer (130 dB)
  • gun shots (140 dB)
  • fireworks, at a distance of about 3 feet (150 dB)

There are also apps you can used which will estimate the decibels of a certain sound.

Follow these tips for preventing noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Wear ear protection (ear muffs or ear plugs when using loud equipment, going to a shooting range, or when you will be in any environment with high noise levels. Using earplugs at a concert can decrease the volume by as much as 35 dB.
  • Turn the volume down on your television, radios, and personal music devices.
  • Decrease the amount of time you spend listening to loud music.
  • Allow your ears to rest after you have been exposed to loud noise. For every two hours you spend at a concert or at a club with loud music you should spend about 16 hours recovering in a quiet environment.

Medications

You might be surprised to know that some medications, even medications that are available over-the-counter, can contribute to hearing loss. These medications are said to be ototoxic (meaning they can be toxic to your ears). Hearing loss caused by ototoxic drugs can be temporary or reversible. Your best bet for reducing or reversing the damage caused by these medications is by being aware that you are taking an ototoxic medication and knowing the side effects you might have if damage to your ears is occurring.

 Here is a list of some of the more common medications that can be ototoxic, (this list is not all inclusive, since there are over 200 medications that can damage your hearing):

  • large amounts of aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen
  • antibiotics including aminoglycosides, quinolones, and macrolides (gentamycin, for example, is notorious for being ototoxic), also tetracycline and vancomycin 
  • anti-cancer drugs such as cisplatin, vinblastine
  • medications used to control blood pressure including diuretics, beta blockers (metoprolol), and the ACE inhibitor Ramipril
  • Sodium valproate
  • Amphotericin
  • Ganciclovir
  • Entacapone
  • Tacrolimus
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Acetazolamide

If you experience the following side effects while taking a new medication, especially if the medication is known to be ototoxic, you should call your doctor right away to minimize any harm to your hearing: 

  • tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
  • difficulty understanding speech
  • loss of balance or dizziness

Preventing Hearing Loss in Your Child or Teen

A shockingly high number of children in the United States (an estimated 15 percent) already have some degree of hearing loss by the time they are 6 to 19 years old. Taking steps to prevent hearing loss at an early age can go a long way toward protecting your child's ability to hear as they get older. As a parent, keep these tips in mind to protect your child or teenager's ears:

  • Buy hearing devices and ear buds that have a volume limit—most newer electronics do.
  • If possible limit the amount of time your child is allowed to listen to loud music.
  • Turn the television volume down—whether they are watching a movie or playing an electronic video game, listening to the TV too loudly will do more damage to your child's ears than sitting too close to the screen will ever do to their eyes.
  • Work with your pediatrician and (if necessary) an ear, nose, and throat doctor to resolve ear problems, such as fluid in the ear or middle ear infections promptly.
  • If your child doesn't get regular hearing screenings at their school, make an appointment with an audiologist to have this done yearly.
  • If your teenager does chores, such as mowing the lawn, make sure they have ear muffs or ear plugs.

Sources:

Top 10 tips to protect your hearing. NHS Choices. Updated: January 2015. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/hearing-problems/Pages/tips-to-protect-hearing.aspx​

Prevention of Hearing Loss. Hearing Loss Association of America. http://www.hearingloss.org/content/prevention-hearing-loss​

Basic Facts About Hearing Loss. Hearing Loss Association of America. http://www.hearingloss.org/content/basic-facts-about-hearing-loss​

Ototoxic Medications (Medication Effects). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Ototoxic-Medications/​

Ototoxicity: The Hidden Menace. NCBI website. Updated February 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138949/​

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