Hear Us Out on How to Be Proactive About Protecting Your Hearing4 weeks ago | Family Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Many people get routine annual physicals and eye exams. But very few get their ears examined. Hearing loss occurs more frequently than you think. The National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports:
- Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing.
- Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20-69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60 to 69 age group.
- One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
So you might want to consider a visit to a trained audiologist as part of your necessary physical exams. Usually, a general examining physician cannot perform the necessary tests to diagnose a hearing issue.
Why the need to test your hearing?
You use your hearing to engage in conversations, listen to music and navigate the world in general. You may not know, however, that hearing and your balance are directly connected.
“When sound waves enter the ear from the outside auricle, they travel down the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates in response to the sound waves, sending an even stronger wave through the middle ear,” according to one source.
“The waves then move into the inner ear, which is filled with fluid. When the waves disturb the liquid, electrical impulses are stimulated and sent up the nerves to the brain. The inner ear also houses the semicircular canals that send impulses to the brain that control balance.”
Furthermore, it appears that if you have difficulty hearing you may be more likely to suffer from depression. The NIDCD found evidence suggesting that there is a strong association between hearing impairment and depression among U.S. adults of all ages, particularly in women.
Reportedly hearing loss “may make it difficult for someone to maintain relationships with friends and family members, leading to depression, social isolation and eventual cognitive decline.”
Types of Hearing Loss
There are different types of hearing loss. The most common one is said to be sensorineural hearing loss, occurring in 23% of the American population older than 65. This kind of hearing loss is caused by damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Age, noise, trauma and some diseases (such as meningitis) may cause sensorineural hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis. “Often, presbycusis involves damage to the inner ear, making it a sensorineural hearing loss. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, other health conditions common with aging, and ototoxic medications that can damage the inner ear all can contribute to presbycusis,” says the Better Hearing Institute.
Bilateral hearing loss occurs in both ears, while unilateral occurs in just one ear.
What about noise-induced hearing loss?
Now, I think it’s extremely important to understand noise-induced hearing loss. Many people may not even realize they may be damaging their ears by listening to very loud music through headphones.
The loudness of a noise is measured in decibels (dB). For example, a whisper is about 30 dB, a normal conversation is about 50 to 60, a 75-piece orchestra is between about 130 to 140 and a turbojet engine is between around 160 to 170.
When does noise become damaging?
“Our ears were not meant to endure a constant hail of loud sounds. As a result, millions of Americans suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL,” according to the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
“A single, very loud sound (such as an explosion or gunshot) can cause NIHL, but most people get it from regular exposure to sounds of 80 dB and above.”
Eighty decibels may really not seem that loud to you. Check out this chart from the Center for Hearing and Communication. A doorbell, garbage disposal or food processor may be as loud as 80 dB. The NIH says that noise becomes damaging at or above 85 dB.
Do you have a ringing in your ears? You may have tinnitus.
If you’ve ever been to a loud concert for a few hours and experienced a ringing in your ears afterwards, this is basically what tinnitus feels like. Usually, this ringing fades a couple of hours or so after the concert.
But chronic tinnitus is caused by too much exposure to loud noise. This ringing may be constant or come and go. Tinnitus can make it very difficult for a person to sleep or concentrate. And we all know a lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing. A lack of concentration and sleep will surely affect work performance.
Many musicians, because they are constantly exposed to loud noise from rehearsals and shows, suffer from tinnitus. Many celebrities have opened up about their tinnitus and hearing loss. Actor Steve Martin said he developed tinnitus after filming a shootout scene for “Three Amigos.”
Another community where hearing loss and tinnitus are prevalent is the veteran community.
“The top service-related medical issue for military veterans isn’t missing limbs, traumatic brain injury or even post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a hearing injury,” according to one source.
“Most of the hearing loss and tinnitus in the military are due to noise exposure — often from gunfire, aircraft, tanks, heavy equipment and roadside bombs. Normal age-related hearing loss can make the problem worse.”
Exposure to such loud noise may also cause a ruptured eardrum, which can lead to hearing loss.
So as you can see, your hearing is precious. Remember that along with affecting quality of life, impaired hearing may affect balance. And if your balance is off, you may be at a greater risk for falls and injury.
A study done by John Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institute of Aging found that hearing loss increases the risk of falls in older people.
Part of the reason for this may be due to the impact on vestibular function (which essentially helps you with balance and spatial orientation) when there is hearing loss.
“The vestibular function is the balance mechanism of the inner ear that provides sensory information about spatial orientation, motion and equilibrium,” according to one report. In addition to this, when you have trouble hearing you also have less environmental awareness. This, too, can increase your risk of falling.
How can you be proactive about protecting your hearing?
Some hearing loss may be inevitable with age, and, of course, you can’t go through life completely avoiding loud noises. You can, however, take steps to help prevent or delay damage to your ears that can cause hearing loss.
- Start by making sure that you get your hearing tested. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, healthy adults ages 18-40 who do not notice any hearing loss should have their hearing tested by a hearing care professional approximately every three to five years.
- If you are constantly exposed to loud noises (perhaps through your job), have your hearing tested more often (perhaps once a year). If you are over the age of 60, have already been fitted for a hearing aid or currently have some degree of hearing loss, then more frequent tests may be necessary.
- Wear ear plugs if you are constantly around loud noise at work. And turn the volume down when listening to music with your headphones!
And as with most things regarding your health, there is a nutritional connection to your hearing.
One NIH report says that following a healthy diet has been linked to a lower risk of hearing loss in women. Women who ate more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, fish and lean meats had a reduced risk of impaired hearing.
“Interestingly, we observed that those following an overall healthy diet had a lower risk of moderate or worse hearing loss,” said one of the doctors on the study.
There are also specific nutrients that may help with hearing:
- Potassium. Helps regulate fluid in your inner ear. With age, potassium levels tend to drop which may contribute to age-related hearing loss.
- Folic Acid. Promotes new cell growth and circulation. These things are important for maintaining the health of the tiny hair cells in the inner ear.
- Magnesium. “Research shows that peoples treated with magnesium in conjunction with Vitamins A, C, and E were protected when exposed to high levels of noise. It’s believed that the magnesium acted as a protective barrier to hair cells in the inner ear when loud noises were emitted. And lack of magnesium has been shown to shrink blood vessels in the inner ear, causing oxygen deprivation. So make sure you are getting enough of this superhero mineral,” says the National Campaign for Better Hearing.
- Zinc. Helps the body fight off infection. And some infections, like meningitis, may cause hearing loss. Zinc also promotes cell growth.
- Vitamin D. Cochlear deafness, which is another term for sensorineural hearing loss, has been connected to vitamin D deficiency, according to the NIH.
- Omega 3 Fats. These healthy fats are found in fish such as salmon and trout. Research from the NIH “showed that dietary intervention with omega-3 FAs may be useful in preventing or delaying the development of A-RHL [age-related hearing loss]. These benefits may be related to the ability of polyunsaturated fatty acids to promote healthy auditory function through the maintenance of adequate vascular supply to the cochlea.”
Now that you know how to protect your precious ears and hearing, go ahead and take a comprehensive nutrient test. Maintaining nutritional balance helps prevent all types of health issues, and it appears that making sure you have all the right nutrients in the right amounts may also help prevent hearing loss. You want to determine if you have too much or too little of any nutrient. A nutrient test is the only way to definitively determine this. If you do, you can work with a competent healthcare professional to tweak your diet and/or take quality supplements.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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