Most types of hearing loss are irreversible. In rare cases something fairly harmless, such as impacted earwax or seasonal allergies, might cause a temporary loss of hearing that can be corrected with medications or surgery. But for 90 percent of South Carolina patients diagnosed with hearing loss, the condition is permanent. Once you’ve got it, you’re stuck with it for life. Naturally, your best bet is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Unlike death and taxes, hearing loss is not inevitable. There are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of hearing damage.
Turn Down the Volume Already!
Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells in the inner ear become damaged. Once those hair cells are destroyed they don’t grow back, so put away your magic wand. It won’t do any good here. The key is preventing that damage from occurring in the first place.
First off, understand that not all types of hearing loss can be prevented. Presbycusis, a fancy medical term for age-related hearing loss, affects about one-third of South Carolina residents by the age of 65 and is the culmination of a lifetime of noise exposure, not to mention other factors such as disease and genetics. There’s little you can do to prevent getting older!
Noise-induced hearing loss, the result of excessive noise exposure, is the second most common cause of hearing loss. Unlike presbycusis, there are things you can do to help prevent hearing loss caused by noise exposure.
First of all, turn down the volume already! Listening to loud music through your personal music player or phone, especially when using headphones or earbuds, is responsible for a sharp increase in hearing loss in adolescents and young adults. We understand the urge to crank it up when listening to the Foo Fighters (or Justin Bieber…we won’t judge!), but doing so can damage your hearing. 85 decibels is considered the threshold for safe hearing; some headphones have maximum output levels rated as high as 136 decibels. That’s loud enough to cause permanent damage in a matter of minutes. To ensure safe listening, adopt the 80-90 rule: listen to music at 80 percent of maximum volume for no more than 90 minutes. And if others in close proximity can hear the music from your headphones, you are definitely playing it too loud. Another good tip for headphone use: invest in a solid pair of noise-canceling headphones. While a little more expensive than your garden variety drugstore type, noise-canceling technology is designed to block outside noise, allowing you to listen at a lower volume level.
A variety of everyday activities can expose you to potentially harmful noise levels. Sources include concerts, sporting events, fireworks, machinery, power tools, firearms, motorcycles, speedboats, jet skis, and snowmobiles. Even the lawn mower is potentially dangerous. And don’t even get us started on leaf blowers! We’re not trying to be the fun police and tell you to give up these pursuits, but enjoy them responsibly by covering up.
Sorry, Fido. In these situations, a good pair of earplugs is your best friend. Custom plugs made from molds of your ear canals offer the best fit and protection, but even a cheap pair of foam plugs from the dollar store is better than nothing. Earmuffs work, too. And you’ll have the added bonus of keeping your ears nice and toasty while making a fashion statement at the same time.
If you’re a musician or hunter or leading a battalion of troops into battle, consider a pair of specially designed earplugs made for these activities.
Listen to the Surgeon General!
We may live in the heart of tobacco country, but the Surgeon General was onto something when he suggested that cigarettes were dangerous. Research shows that smokers are more likely to develop hearing loss than those who avoid nicotine.
Other common-sense preventative steps include refraining from inserting anything smaller than an elbow into your ear, thoroughly drying your ears after swimming or showering, and when blowing your nose, do so gently through both nostrils.
Adopting these practices won’t guarantee you prevent hearing loss, but they’ll reduce your overall risk.