Posted on August 09 2019
If you’re like most of us, you take your hearing for granted. Your auditory system shows up ready for business each morning, and you think that as long as you don’t abuse it too badly, it’ll keep doing what it’s meant to do: Processing sounds and allowing you to be fully functional and vital.
But the reality is quite different.
The truth is, dozens of everyday situations and activities can gradually erode our hearing, and you’ve probably found yourself in several of them today. The Remedy consulted top doctors around the country who see this all the time. Here’s their advice on how you can take easy steps to protect your hearing—and ensure that well into your golden years, you’ll never miss a beat.
You’re Using Cotton Swabs In Your Ears
“A lot of people will use objects like cotton swabs to try to remove wax from their ears. While they think they may be removing all the wax, usually a little will come out on the cotton swab (or other object) and the rest gets pushed deeper into the ear canal,” says J. Glicksman, MD, an otolaryngologist at Harvard Medical School. “If enough builds up, it can block off sound conduction to the ear like an earplug.”
He adds: “I’ve also seen patients with all sorts of other problems from using these devices to remove wax, ranging from ear infections caused by small cuts in the ear canal skin to perforated tympanic membranes (ruptured ear drums) and worse.”
Recommendation: Never put anything into your ear canal that’s sharper than your elbow. “I generally recommend against my patients sticking objects in their ears because of these and other potential complications,” says Glicksman. To safely clean your ears, realize that ear wax is designed to flow out naturally. Just wash your ears with soap and water in the shower, when you’re shampooing. If you have impacted wax, see a medical professional to have it removed.
You’re Smoking, Or Otherwise Raising Your Diabetes Risk
Smoking is a major risk for cardiovascular disease. Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxins which weaken the walls of blood vessels throughout the body, which can lead to catastrophic results including stroke, heart attack and hearing loss. High blood sugar, a.k.a. diabetes, similarly weakens those vessels. “Vascular disease from poor lifestyle choices can predispose you to early hearing loss,” says Grobman. “Healthy life choices make a difference — even in your hearing.”
A.Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, concurs: “Nicotine causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels all over the body. This also applies to the inner ear. The more you smoke, the more restricted the blood flow, and the greater the hearing loss.”
Recommendation: Reduce your risk of blood vessel damage by quitting smoking, not drinking alcohol in excess, and warding off diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, see your doctor regularly and comply with their recommendations, including any medication regime.
You’re Not Wearing Ear Protection on Airplanes
Airplane noise might be the most damaging of dull roars. “While it depends on a number of factors including the size of the aircraft, planes can be loud enough to potentially damage your hearing,” says C. Callahan, Au.D, an audiologist. In the air, ambient sound can reach 85 to 100 decibels, as loud as a lawnmower or noisy room; levels above 85 decibels are considered harmful.
Recommendation: You can help preserve your hearing with seat selection and noise protection. “Some areas of the plane may be quieter than others, typically the front if the engines are on the wings. But the best bet to avoid potential damage is to wear protection on your ears such as noise-cancelling headphones,” says Callahan. “Another thing to think about is when the jet engines are loud, the natural reaction may be to raise the level of your headphones when listening to music or watching a movie. But the risk is raising the volume to a dangerously high level, which could also damage your hearing.” Pop in earplugs instead.
You Work With Loud Machines
“Research indicates that prolonged exposure to noises above 85 decibels can damage hearing permanently,” says Kouri. “This is the level of noise from heavy traffic. If you work in a factory or in construction around loud tools, chances are you’re doing permanent hearing damage — close proximity to a jackhammer is 120 decibels, and the noise from a semi truck is 90 decibels.”
How loud is 85 decibels, anyway? You can measure the noise around you with a smartphone app like the well-reviewed Decibel X.
Recommendation: “Protect yourself by wearing earplugs while working in loud environments,” says Kouri.
You’re Not Eating a Balanced Diet
“Diet impacts our health in more ways than we realize,” says L. Richards, a nutritionist. “The Journal of Nutrition published a study in 2018 looking at the impact of three different diets on hearing health. The findings suggest that women who eat a healthy balanced diet have lower risks of hearing loss. While nutrition can be protective of hearing, it can also impact hearing in a negative way. Malnutrition affects every organ in the body, including the inner ear.”
Recommendation: Eat a balanced diet that emphasizes protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
You Work in an Open Office
The open office trend was launched by companies to save money. But that’s come at the expense of their employees’ productivity — and hearing. “While there are many benefits to open-office environments, they come with unique challenges, like uncontrolled chatter, impromptu conversations, decreased productivity due to constant distractions, and even potential hearing damage,” says Dietz. “A large office often has a noise level of about 50 decibels, which not only is more than enough to cause significant distraction but also may result in workers plugging in their headphones and turning up their music. This can cause hearing problems if the volume is loud enough to drown out office noise.”
Recommendation: “I encourage my patients to set a volume limit on their phone or computer, which can help prevent their hearing loss and allows them to maintain a safe listening level,” says Dietz. “Unoccupied conference or meeting rooms can also provide privacy and quiet away from a noisy cubicle to avoid popping in those headphones and turning up the music.”