Hearing Loss: How You Can Protect Your Auditory Health
Discover the importance of protecting your hearing and learn practical tips to prevent hearing loss. Safeguard your auditory health!
We often only really appreciate things when they fade away and hearing loss echoes through every aspect of our life. Imagine being unable to hear your loved one’s voice, favourite music, chirping birds or waves flowing up the shore? How about hearing your doorbell or warning alarms? Hearing impairment is incredibly frustrating for both the speaker and the listener. Protecting our hearing is imperative as, once lost, it’s difficult or often impossible to regain.
Being hard of hearing is an ageing hazard with 50 per cent of Australians over 60 suffering hearing loss, according to the Hearing Care Industry Association. “Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition after high blood pressure and arthritis,” states the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is a sneaky symptom that often comes from cumulative damage, creeping up gradually in both ears, like music volume lowering over decades.
Three hearing hassles
There are three types of hearing issues
- Conductive — The outer or middle ear is damaged or obstructed, which blocks sound to the inner ear. An example of this is a punctured eardrum or a bony growth.
- Sensorineural — This irreversible issue is when the microscopic hairs called cilia are damaged or die and can’t receive incoming sound to signal the brain.
- Mixed — A combination of conductive and sensorineural issues such as impacted wax.
15 ear enemies
We can harm our hearing suddenly or slowly through everyday exposure. Listen out for these threats to your auditory allies.
- Loud noise over 85 decibels such as from machines, music, fireworks or high-pitched dentist drills.
- Ear infections
- Accumulated ear wax
- Punctured ear drum from objects such as Q-tips
- Changes to ear structure
- Impeded circulation to ear
- Damaged cilia
- Auditory nerve damage
- Brain changes affecting ability to process soun
- Ear plugs or headphones
- Head injury
- Chemicals or medications such as some ototoxic antibiotics
- Health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and poor circulation
- Growths such as otosclerosis or tumours
- Genetic influences
“What? Nothing wrong with my hearing. Stop mumbling and speak clearly!” That was my dad’s common complaint. Like many, he was in denial and defensive about going deaf. My plea for him to get a hearing test fell on deaf ears. He thought the test would be embarrassing, expensive, painful and potentially end up with him wearing an ugly hearing aid. So he continued to look confused during conversation, attempted lip reading and feigned comprehension with unconvincing nods. In reality hearing tests are simple, painless and often free. They can gauge the level of your hearing loss, identify potential causes and lead to satisfactory solutions. Catching hearing issues early can lead to better outcomes. Conversely, delaying addressing hearing increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline, according to John Hopkins University — “seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing”.
People over 50 are advised to get a hearing test annually. Initially, your GP can check the ear canal and drum with an otoscope for damage, infection, inflammation or obstructions. Next, an expert such as an audiologist can check hearing or an ENT specialist or otolaryngologist can address disease. Common tests include pure tone audiometry, where one’s sound response is assessed and air conduction which measures your auditory acuity through headphones. Select hearing clinics offer free hearing checks and the Australian government subsidises some people’s tests. To see if you’re eligible, visit hearingservices.gov.au.
Suffering in silence
Undetected or untreated hearing loss can have devastating consequences as follows
- Cognitive decline
- Heart problems such as high blood pressure
- Increased accidents
- Lower income
- Loss of pleasures such as listening to music
- Muscle tension
- Poor communication causing misunderstandings and inept action
Hear ye, hear ye
Listen to these ear-tingling tips to improve and protect your ears over the years.
- Wear ear protection such as noise-cancelling earmuffs in noisy environments.
- Avoid jabbing fingers or Q-tips into your ears, which can clog the canal or perforate the eardrum.
- Regularly clean the outside of your ears.
- Listen to things at a low volume and give your ears some quiet time.
- Avoid electronic earbuds which are dangerously close to the eardrum.
- Dry your ears after bathing or swimming, pulling your ear lobe down to ease the water out.
- Get a regular hearing check-up and ear syringing.
- Manage blood pressure, circulation, diabetes and heart health.
- Alcohol, smoking and vaping can affect the ears’ environment and hearing.
- Check if your medication has any effect on your hearing.
- If you work in excessively noisy conditions, check if this is a violation of Work Health and Safety.
- Encourage ear circulation with gentle massage and movement.
- Settle stress as it can escalate tinnitus.
Lend me your ears
After ascertaining your hearing needs, medical management may include ear drops, a cochlear implant, medication, syringing, surgery, therapy or a hearing aid, according to your requirements. Hearing devices have developed amazingly since the amplifying ear trumpets of the 1600s and bulky vacuum-tube hearing aids of the 1920s. Today, discreet devices are tailored to the individual, offering high-quality sound and wireless connectivity. “Assistive listening devices are like binoculars for the ears,” explains Cynthia Compton-Conley, Ph.D. There are also phone apps and amplifiers that can convert speech to text, such as Google Live Transcribe.
Cues for clear communication
- Express that you have a hearing problem.
- Look at the speaker’s face front on, in good light and in a quiet place.
- Request that they speak slowly and clearly.
- Ask them to please repeat.
- Acknowledge you have heard them.
Eating for your ears
“Accumulating evidence suggests that a healthier diet, such as one that resembles the Mediterranean diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, may help protect against ageing-related hearing loss,” Dr Sharon G. Curhan, director of The Conservation of Hearing Study, told healthyhearing.com.
A healthy diet helps all our physical functions, including our hearing. Ensuring that you’re free from deficiencies and have adequate building blocks can only benefit your biology. Foods hindering hearing include anything that can clog channels, create free radicals, increase blood pressure, promote diabetes and contain chemicals or heavy metals. Although there are no specific ingredients to improve listening, a balanced diet rich in organic vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and healthy oils is going to support hearing.
Studies by Dr Cuhan and her cohorts have concluded that nutrients that reduce the risk of hearing loss include carotenoids, folate and omega-3s. A study led by Denise K. Houston found deficiency in folate and B12 was associated with age-related auditory dysfunction. Co enzyme Q10 “may have beneficial effects in the treatment of sudden sensorineural hearing loss”, according to a study in Clinical Otolaryngology in December 2010. Magnesium and zinc are earmarked to ease tinnitus in a report by nutrition scientist Martin Hofmeister. “Melatonin is associated with a “statistically significant decrease in tinnitus intensity and improved sleep quality in patients with chronic tinnitus”, according to the Melatonin: Can it Stop the Ringing? trial.
Ayurvedic auditory care
Karna purana is the ancient Ayurvedic practice of oleating the ears. Air and ether, or the Vata dosha, are predominant in the ears and can be appeased with moderate warm oil. Ear issues are aggravated by anything that imbalances Vata, including cold, depletion, irregularity, stress, travel and wind.
The practice of massaging five or more drops of heated sesame oil into the ear is traditionally applied in order to
- Diminish dryness
- Draw out earwax
- Settle tinnitus
- Reduce vertigo
- Ease headaches
- Treat temporomandibular disorders
Hum to health
Sometimes we just want to shut out the world and withdraw within. Yogic bee’s breath (Bhramari Pranayama) is a wonderful way to do this while enhancing hearing and easing tinnitus. Yoga teaches that Bhramari can reduce tinnitus by balancing blood pressure, clearing sinuses, increasing nitric oxide production, tuning the neuro-endocrine system, regulating cochlear blood flow, calming the mind by stimulating the vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and relaxing cranial plus neck muscles.
In fact, a 2018 study conducted at the Indian Institute of Ear Diseases found simple stretches along with the humming of Bhramari reaped positive results.