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How to Prevent Hearing Loss

The most common forms of hearing loss in adults are:

  • Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis. This is caused by a slow breakdown of tiny hair cells in the ears that takes place as you get older.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss. This comes from exposure to loud noises over time that damage tiny hair cells in the ears. These cells pick up sound vibrations and send signals to the brain.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and avoid worsening age-related hearing loss. Here are 8 tips to help keep your ears as sharp as possible.

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1. Avoid Excessive Noise

How loud is too loud? If you have to shout over surrounding noise, it's loud enough to damage your hearing. For example, the sounds from motorcycles, music players, and power tools like saws and drills are all loud enough to hurt your hearing over time.

2. Be a Quiet Enforcer

Turn down the ambient noise level in your life by buying appliances and devices that have low noise ratings. If ambient noise is too loud in a health club, movie theater, restaurant, or any other place you go often, ask the manager to turn it down.

3. Limit Exposure to Loud Sounds

Sometimes you can't avoid loud sounds. At those times, it's best to limit the amount of time you're exposed to them. Noise-induced hearing loss is a result of the loudness of sounds in addition to the duration of exposure.

4. Wear Hearing Protection

Wear ear protection if you know you're going to be exposed to loud sounds for more than a few minutes. Choices for protection include:

  • Earplugs. Usually made of foam or rubber, earplugs are worn in your ear canal and can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels. You can buy earplugs off-the-shelf or have them custom-made to fit you.
    Some ear plugs are designed to reduce noise levels evenly across all frequencies. These are useful for people who need to make sound quieter but undistorted, such as musicians.
  • Earmuffs. Designed to fit completely over your ears, earmuffs also reduce sounds by about 15 to 30 decibels. Remember that your earmuffs must fit tightly over both ears in order to block sound.

Earplugs and earmuffs can also be used together for even greater protection from loud sounds.

5. Don't Smoke

Exposure to tobacco smoke has been linked to increased risk of hearing loss. Research has shown that smoking, age, and noise exposure can collectively increase a person's risk for hearing loss. If you smoke, preserving your hearing is one more good reason to quit. If you don't smoke, avoid breathing secondhand smoke.

6. Remove Earwax Properly

Waxy buildup in your ears can muffle sound. But don't use a cotton swab to clean them out. Cotton swabs can push wax even deeper into your ear canal. Instead, use an at-home irrigation kit to soften wax and gently wash it out of your ear. If wax has become compacted in your ear, your doctor may need to remove it.

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