Did you know that 1 in 10 Americans have hearing loss?
Our hearing is more fragile than most of us realize. Any noise over 85 decibels can cause hearing damage. Even seemingly harmless activities, like attending a concert or mowing the lawn can damage sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause hearing loss over time. Other things that can cause hearing loss include infections, some medications, genetics, and aging.
Some factors are out of our hands, but there are steps we can take to protect our hearing throughout our lives. And while you can’t go back in time and prevent your own hearing loss, you can be a hearing loss prevention advocate for your loved ones.
For infants, hearing loss is typically caused when the mother has a viral infection while pregnant and passes it to her baby during childbirth. The most dangerous are toxoplasmosis, measles, and herpes. Sometimes babies born prematurely have impaired hearing.
What you can do
Find out as soon as possible. Most hospitals screen a baby’s hearing before sending him home. If the baby wasn’t born in the hospital or not screened, have the pediatrician check his hearing within the first month.
Some hearing loss develops later, and parents and caregivers are usually the first ones to notice. If a baby doesn’t react to sound as he should, let the doctor know immediately.
During childhood, the biggest risks to hearing are illness and injury. Hearing loss can occur if nerves in the inner ear are damaged by a head trauma, a tumor, or certain infections, like chicken pox; the flu; meningitis; or mononucleosis.
Protect your little ones from head injuries with helmets during all potentially dangerous activities. Make sure they are up to date on all vaccinations available and that they get a flu shot every fall.
For teens, loud music is the main culprit causing hearing loss. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 12.5 percent of children 6 to 19 have hearing loss from listening to loud music. Typically, teens listen with ear buds, which put the audio signal closer to the ear boosting it up to nine decibels.
What you can do
Educate the teens in your life about hearing loss and what it means. Many don’t realize that it is a permanent condition or how delicate our ears are. Ask them to wear ear muff style head phones instead of ear buds. If they do wear ear buds, have them follow the 60/60 rule: keep the volume below 60 percent, and don’t listen more than 60 minutes a day.
As we get older, the activities that cause hearing loss are often things we have to do—yard and house work (mowing, leaf blowing, using power tools), or jobs that require us to be in loud environments for extended periods of time.
Recreation, like attending concerts, target shooting and hunting, or snowmobiling, can also cause hearing loss over time.
What you can do
Be aware that any long-term or repeated exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Most of us don’t realize how loud some common sounds are.
- Heavy traffic- 85 decibels
- Motorcycles-95 decibels
- An MP3 player at maximum volume-105 decibels
- Sirens-120 decibels
- Firecrackers and firearms-150 decibels
Be sure to wear earplugs or ear muffs when you participate in a loud activity. If possible, do the same at work, if you work in a noisy environment. When you find yourself without ear protection, try to limit your exposure to the sound.
As we age, some degree of hearing loss is natural and part of the aging process. It is actually one of the most common age-related conditions. It often occurs simultaneously in both ears, affecting them equally.
However, hearing loss could be a symptom of another health condition. For example, high blood pressure and diabetes have been linked to hearing loss.
Additionally, there are over 200 pharmaceuticals known to adversely affect the human auditory system. Often these ototoxic drugs are used to treat conditions that are more common in older people, like cancer; infections; and heart disease.
What you can do
Educate yourself about the side effects of all your medications. Before you begin any course of treatment, get a hearing test from a hearing care professional. The audiogram they provide will give you a baseline by which to measure changes.
Get regular checkups to monitor your blood pressure, glucose levels, and other important vital statistics. If you start to notice hearing loss, talk to your doctor right away, or make an appointment with a hearing care specialist.
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