Many adults eventually realize they’re pressing the “volume up” button on the TV remote more often, or that a lot of people around them need to speak up. While there are plenty of myths about hearing loss, there are two common reasons people start to lose their hearing:
Age: As you get older, the tiny hair cells in your inner ears slowly break down and can’t pick up sound vibrations as well as they used to.
Noise: A lot of loud sound over time can damage the hair cells in your ears. Learn more about treating noise-induced hearing loss.
The good news? You can do some things to avoid noise-induced hearing loss and keep age-related hearing loss from getting worse. Here are eight tips to help keep your ears as sharp as possible.
1. Avoid Too Much Noise
How loud is too loud? If you have to shout over the noise around you, it's loud enough to damage your hearing. Sounds from motorcycles, concert speakers, power tools like saws and drills, earphones, and more are all loud enough to make a difference. Learn more about the relationship between loud music and hearing loss.
2. Be a Quiet Enforcer
Think about buying appliances and devices that have low noise ratings. And if it's too loud in the movie theater, restaurant, or any other place you go often, ask the manager to turn it down. It's a good idea to carry earplugs.
3. Limit Loud Sounds in Your Life
Sometimes you can't avoid the blare of an ambulance siren or the jackhammer on your street corner. But it's best to limit the amount of time you're around them. Noise-induced hearing loss is a result of the loudness of sounds and how long you hear them.
4. Wear Hearing Protection
If you know you're going to be around loud sounds for more than a few minutes, think about wearing protection, such as:
- Earplugs. Usually made of foam or rubber, they go in your ear canal and can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels. You can buy them off-the-shelf or have them custom-made to fit you. Some earplugs lower noise levels evenly across all frequencies. They’re useful for people who need to make sound quieter but undistorted, such as musicians.
- Earmuffs. These fit completely over your ears and reduce sounds by about 15 to 30 decibels. They have to fit tightly over both ears to block sound.
You can also wear earplugs and earmuffs together for even greater protection.
5. Don't Smoke
Tobacco can make you more likely to lose your hearing, too, research shows. So if you light up, that's one more good reason to quit. If you aren’t a smoker, avoid breathing secondhand smoke.
6. Remove Earwax Properly
A buildup of wax in your ears can muffle sound. But don't use a cotton swab to clean them out -- they can push wax deeper in. Instead, use an at-home irrigation kit to soften wax and gently wash it out. If it gets compacted in your ear, your doctor may need to remove it.
7. Check Medications for Hearing Risks
About 200 drugs can damage hearing, including some antibiotics and cancer-fighting drugs. Even high doses of aspirin can harm your ears. If you take a prescription medication, check with your doctor to make sure it won’t make an impact. If you must take a medication that may harm your ears, make sure your doctor checks your hearing and balance before and during your treatment.
8. Have Your Hearing Tested
Make an appointment to get a hearing test if you:
- Have close relatives with hearing loss
- Have trouble hearing conversations
- Are around loud noises on a regular basis
- Often hear ringing in your ears
- You haven't had one before
If you have some hearing loss, you can avoid getting more damage by steering clear of loud noises. If your problem is severe enough, think about a hearing aid or other treatment. Be sure to see your doctor if you have a sudden change in what you can hear that you can’t explain. It could be a symptom of other serious medical problems. Additional reading: More tips on how to prevent hearing loss.