Hearing loss is a common problem in the modern era. It is the partial or full inability to hear sounds. One is said to have hearing loss when one or both ears do not reach the average hearing threshold of 25dB. It can occur on one or both ears and can be permanent or temporary. In many cases, hearing loss develops gradually, but it can occur suddenly.
It is good to see your doctor as soon as you notice signs and symptoms of hearing loss to get early treatment. These signs include:
- Hearing hissing, roaring and ringing noises in your ears, known as tinnitus
- Failing to notice loud TV or music
- Asking people to repeat statements all the time
- Misunderstanding what other people are saying or responding inappropriately
- Having difficulty hearing other people, especially in noisy places
Hearing loss is not the same as deafness. By definition, hearing loss is the reduced ability to hear a speech like other people meaning that your hearing capability is still present. On the other hand, deafness is a profound loss of hearing or very little hearing. It is characterized by the inability to detect sound at all.
The causes of hearing loss may be categorized into three, including: sensorineural hearing loss, mixed hearing loss, and conductive hearing loss. In sensorineural hearing loss, the auditory nerve or the hair cells in the cochlea are damaged.
Aging is one of the factors that can diminish the functionality of your hair cells. Long-term exposure to high-frequency noise and trauma to the head can also damage these hair cells. Hair cells are not replaceable, which means sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible.
The auditory nerve can be damaged by infections such as scarlet fever, mumps, meningitis, and measles. Certain medications, referred to as ototoxic drugs, are associated with auditory nerve damage, which leads to SNHL.
Conductive hearing loss happens when sound is blocked from reaching the middle or inner ear. This can be due to defective eardrums, swimmer’s ear, allergies, and ear infections. Scar tissue or benign tumors can also lead to conductive hearing loss. You can treat this hearing loss with medication or surgery.
Mixed hearing loss entails a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It mostly results from prolonged ear infections leading to the damage of the ossicles and eardrum. You can correct mixed hearing loss through surgery, but it is not always guaranteed.
Age-linked hearing loss might not be preventable. However, hearing loss caused by lifestyle habits and infections can be avoided. Here are seven ways you prevent hearing loss:
1. Avoid Loud Noise
How loud is too loud? If you find yourself shouting while speaking to someone in a noisy place, then the noise can potentially affect your hearing. Loud and long-term noise damages hair cells in the cochlea or the auditory nerve leading to permanent hearing loss.
The first crucial step in preventing noise-induced hearing loss is to understand the noises that may cause damage. Noise is measured in decibels (dB), which indicates the sensitivity of your ear to different frequencies and levels of noise. Here are examples of noise levels:
- 0dB – the lowest sound your ears can hear
- 85dB – a lawnmower
- 97dB – a fire alarm in a factory
- 100dB – music in a nightclub
- 130dB – an aircraft taking off
The allowed threshold of noise level is 85dB. This means that any noise below this is safe and anything above it is harmful. Avoid being in noisy places like live concerts, gigs, or nightclubs. If you have to, hang out in less noisy places if at all they exist.
The likelihood of developing hearing loss also depends on the length of time you are exposed to the sound. It means that the more time you are exposed to loud noise, the higher the risk of developing profound hearing loss.
The length of time you can be exposed to 85dB is eight hours. This is a safe exposure time. Therefore, in a nightclub playing music at 100dB, you stand a higher risk of hearing loss. Limiting the time you are exposed to noise can protect you from hearing damage.
2. Prevent Ear Infection
An ear infection is one of the leading causes of conductive hearing loss. It occurs when there is a blockage in your middle ear, hindering the free flow of air into the inner ear. This clogging creates a good breeding ground for bacteria.
Children are at a higher risk of developing ear infections than adults. This is because of their small-sized Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx. Besides, you are likely to get an infection during winter and fall due to upper-respiratory infections like flu and cold that are prevalent in these seasons.
If left untreated, an ear infection can lead to middle ear dysfunction and temporary hearing loss. Recurrent conductive hearing loss is one of the major causes of delayed language and speech development in children. There are several things you can do to prevent ear infection and, in so doing, prevent temporary hearing loss, including:
· Keep your ears clean by washing them with water and a soft towel or tissue. Avoid using cotton swabs as they only remove little wax and push the rest deep into the ear.
· Stay up to date with your child’s immunization shots to protect them from diseases that may cause ear infections such as mumps, rubella, meningitis, and measles.
· Deal with any allergies that you may cause swelling of the ear tubes. To control allergies, you can use nasal sprays as recommended by your doctor.
· Practice nasal irrigation if you experience congestion when it gets cold. By doing this, you will remove allergens, irritants, and infections in the nose and prevent them from migrating to the ear.
· Practice cold prevention during winter to evade colds and flu. Ensure that you wash your hand frequently and avoid touching your face.
3. Prevent Noise at Work
Some jobs can put you at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. They include construction workers, flight crew, carpenters, factory workers, airline ground staff, miners, musicians and DJ’s, farmers and motorcycle riders, among others.
Whatever the workplace, there are three steps you need to follow to avoid the harmful effects of loud noise. The first step is to evaluate the risk of the noise hazard. Here you will identify the people exposed to the noise and assess the existing measures being used to curb the noise. Also, find out if additional actions need to be taken.
Next, find and implement noise control measures to minimize your exposure to loud noise. Preventative measures may include:
- Elimination of the source of noise where possible. You can achieve this by using quieter substitutes.
- Controlling the noise at the source using various engineering controls. These include soundproof rooms, isolation, new installations, and regular repairs and maintenance.
- Implementing administrative controls where engineering controls are not possible. This involves flexible working hours and personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise exposure.
The final step in protecting yourself from workplace noise is monitoring the control measures. This is because the noise level may change over time. It is, therefore, important to evaluate the control measures and make improvements where necessary.
4. Use Hearing Protection
While most noisy environments may be avoided, some are unavoidable. If you work as a factory worker or an ambulance driver, you are certainly exposed to hazardous noise levels daily. In that case, you need to wear hearing protection whenever you are on duty.
Hearing protection reduces the noise levels you are exposed to, thus protecting you from hearing loss. Choose the correct device for your job. Also, ensure it is comfortable and properly fitting. There are three types of hearing protection:
Earplugs – These are reusable or disposable plugs that you insert inside your ear canal. You can purchase them from a drug store or get custom-made ones from an audiologist.
Semi earplugs – They are not fully inserted into the ear like regular plugs. They are loosely held over the ear canal by a headband that connects the plugs. Semi earplugs are not as effective as regular earplugs.
Earmuffs – They are made with soft ear cushions or sound-attenuating material around the cups. A headband connects the muffs.
5. Remove Excess Earwax
It’s natural to have earwax. This oily substance cleans and protects your ears from bacterial infection. However, earwax buildup can be problematic. It can lead to itching, tinnitus, earache, and even hearing loss. Besides, excess earwax can hinder the performance of hearing aids.
It is not advisable to use cotton swabs to remove earwax. They might cause more damage than good by pushing the wax deeper into your ear. There are several home remedies you may use to remove impacted earwax. For instance, you can soften the wax with a few drops of glycerin, baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, or mineral oil.
If you are unable to clear the buildup on your own, get help from your doctor. There could be an underlying problem that the doctor needs to rule out. To remove the wax, they may use a curette, which is a curved instrument used to remove wax manually. They may also use the irrigation method or medications dropped into the canal to soften and breakdown the earwax.
6. Avoid Medication That Damage Hearing
Certain medications can potentially damage your ear and cause hearing loss. They are known as ototoxic medicines. These medications mostly damage the cochlea in the inner ear leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss. Examples of ototoxic drugs are:
- Chemotherapy drugs such as bleomycin and carboplatin
- Loop diuretics used in treating heart failure and high blood pressure, such as bumetanide and furosemide
- Some antibiotics like aminoglycosides
- Pain relievers, especially the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen
- Hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine and quinine
- Aspirin when taken in large doses
Drug-related hearing loss mostly occurs in older adults who have taken ototoxic medicines for prolonged periods. To reduce the risk of this hearing loss, it is recommendable that you observe healthy lifestyle habits. These include maintaining an ideal weight, proper nutrition, exercise, and avoiding destructive habits like smoking.
7. Get Regular Screening
Regular ear checkup is as essential as your dental checkup. Having your ears screened can help to identify any developing issues, hence address them early enough. More importantly, an examination can uncover issues that may lead to hearing loss.
Essentially, you should have your ears screened at least once a year. However, you might want to schedule more appointments if you:
- Experience ringing in your ears
- Work or live in a noisy place
- Have trouble hearing
- Have close family members with hearing loss
During the examination, your audiologist will check for damage and infection in the ear canal and eardrum using an otoscope. They will also test your hearing ability by performing a hearing test.
Hearing loss is preventable. If you have mild hearing loss, you should stay away from loud noise to avoid further damage. If that’s not possible,use right type of hearing aid. If the problem is severe, make sure you see an audiologist to have it diagnosed and get proper treatment.