The National Institutes of Health estimate one third of people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 75 have some hearing loss, and about half of those older than 75 have some trouble hearing normal sounds. About 40 percent of the 20 million Americans who have hearing loss are 65 or older.
When sound waves reach the structures of the inner ear, they cause vibrations at the eardrum before travelling through the cochlea. Attached to nerve cells within the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs that help translate these vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain.
The medical term for the gradual hearing loss that comes with age is presbycusis. It’s caused by a loss of these tiny hair cells that act as sound receptors, and also from free radical damage that can clog up the ear’s tissues that act as sound amplifiers.
Since hearing loss can start at any age, prevention measures should start early, and become a lifelong habit. Here are five of the most important ways to prevent unnecessary hearing loss:
• Avoid harmful noises. People of all ages are now experiencing hearing loss at younger ages and quicker rates. Reduce the noise in your life by turning down the volume on the stereo, TV, car radio — and especially when using personal listening devices with headphones or ear buds. If you use headphones to listen to music, don’t turn the volume up past 50 percent, and never exceed 80 percent, even for a short time.
• Use proper hygiene. Never stick a cotton swab or other object in your ear to remove earwax, or scratch your ear. If earwax if causing you problems with hearing, speak to your doctor about the best way to remove it.
• Keep medical conditions under control. Conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis and other circulatory illnesses that are not treated properly can lead to hearing loss. The inner parts of the ear are sensitive and delicate so any circulation problems you have can affect your hearing. Trouble hearing is also likely to occur in people who smoke.
• Talk to your doctor about your medications. Some medications, although not many, can affect your hearing. For example, temporary effects on your hearing can occur if you take large doses of aspirin. Certain kinds of diuretics can also affect hearing. Since hearing loss is partially genetic, let your doctor know if anyone in your family has trouble hearing.
• Don’t wait to see the doctor. After noise-related damage to the ear happens, it can’t be reversed, but further damage is preventable. If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, get your hearing checked by a professional. If you are genetically predisposed to hearing loss, take precautions right away.
Information provided by Clint Rogers, Comfort Keepers, 1300 Metro East Drive, Suite 128, Pleasant Hill, 515-243-0011