The number of hearing cases is on the rise globally. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.5 billion people will experience hearing loss by 2050.
While some types of hearing loss are unavoidable, there are some simple steps to reduce the risk. This guide will tell you all about how to prevent hearing loss.
Strategies for Preventing Hearing Loss
The key to preventing hearing loss is to manage your risk factors through a multifaceted approach that includes:
- Limiting exposure to loud sounds
- Maintaining the health of your ears and body as a whole
- Regular screening for hearing loss and related conditions
Let’s explore each of these in-depth.
Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
People in the 21st century are surrounded by loud noise, so noise-induced hearing loss is increasingly common.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when loud sounds damage the hair cells of the inner ear. These outer tiny hair cells are responsible for amplifying and dampening sound.
There are two ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Avoiding Loud Noise
Avoid prolonged exposure to loud sounds to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB), and research shows that being around noise levels higher than 85 dB for an extended period will damage your ears.
You can get a sound level meter app for your phone to measure noisy environments, or you can estimate using these noise levels for reference:
- Drill: 94 dB
- Rock concert: 120 dB
- Ambulance: 130 dB
- Airplane engines: 140 dB
Limit Headphone Use
One of the primary causes of hearing loss is listening to loud music on headphones for long periods. At maximum volume, many headphones and earbuds are blasting more than 100 dB of sound directly into your ear canal. That’s well above the 85 dB, which is considered safe for your hearing.
To protect your hearing, follow the “60-60 rule.” Only listen to your headphones at 60 percent volume for an hour at a time and take a break.
Wear Hearing Protection
Some people cannot avoid loud sounds because of their occupation. Certain jobs are exposed to loud noises constantly, including:
- Construction workers
- Military personnel
If you have a job where you’re around loud sounds all day, you should wear earplugs, noise-canceling headphones and other forms of hearing protection to block sound. You should also wear hearing protection when you go to concerts and sporting events. The music at a show is loud enough to hear while wearing earplugs.
Take Care of Your Ears
To protect your hearing, you need to make sure your ears are in top shape. That means routine exams and treating ear conditions immediately.
Get a Regular Hearing Test
Even if you have good hearing, doctors recommend regular hearing tests every three to five years.
Annual hearing tests are suggested for the following groups:
- Seniors over 60
- People exposed to loud noises at work
- People who frequently listen to music on headphones
- People taking chemotherapy drugs or other medications known to be toxic to the ears
You should also get your hearing tested if you have signs of hearing damage, such as:
- Your friends and family comment that your TV volume is too loud
- You have trouble hearing or understanding conversations
- People ask you to talk quieter because your voice is too loud
- You notice a ringing or other sounds that no one can hear
After getting tested by a hearing professional, they may recommend a hearing aid or preventative measures to keep your hearing loss from worsening.
Some people are predisposed to earwax buildup due to genetics or frequent headphone usage. If left unchecked, this can cause a blockage and temporary hearing loss.
If you often wear earplugs or headphones, you should regularly flush your ears out with warm distilled water or medicated drops.
Treat Ear Infections
Bacterial, fungal and viral infections can damage the eardrum if left untreated. Don’t wait for the symptoms to go away. Talk to a doctor to get medication to prevent further damage.
Managing Other Risk Factors
While hearing protection and avoiding loud noise will help drastically reduce your risk of hearing loss, there are other significant risk factors you shouldn’t neglect. Here are a few things you can do to manage the different factors that contribute to hearing loss.
Cigarette smoke contains chemicals harmful to the ear. Nicotine also constricts the blood vessels in the ear, affecting hearing.
Avoid Certain Chemicals and Drugs
More than 700 drugs are harmful to the ears, ranging from over-the-counter pain medications to life-saving cancer drugs. If you’re showing signs of a toxic reaction like ear pain or tinnitus, you should talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Many everyday substances are also harmful to your ears, such as:
- Paint fumes
Wear personal protective equipment to cover your ears while you’re on the job or doing home repairs.
Ensure that you and your children have all of your vaccinations for rubella and rubeola.
Manage Chronic Conditions
All the parts of your body are connected, so many systemic conditions have an impact on your hearing health, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune conditions
Manage these conditions by eating healthy, taking your medications, exercising and caring for your body in general.
Relax and Destress
Stress plays a role in hearing loss. More research is needed to understand the relationship, but some scientists believe it’s rooted in the body’s response.
When you’re stressed out, your adrenaline starts pumping, sending a signal to your body to redirect blood to the most essential organs while reducing blood flow to the ears.
Over time, this deficit in blood supply can take its toll on your hearing. Manage your stress through meditation, exercise, recreation and other relaxation techniques.
Protect Your Ears
For people predisposed to age-related hearing loss, hearing problems are sadly unavoidable. However, there are measures you can take to slow the progress and reduce the effect. Noise-induced hearing loss, on the other hand, is preventable by wearing hearing protection and avoiding loud noises.
Also, there’s more to hearing loss prevention than just limiting your exposure to loud sound. An overall healthy lifestyle is the key to better health—and better hearing.
3. Cruickshanks KJ, Klein R, Klein BEK, Wiley TL, Nondahl DM, Tweed TS. Cigarette Smoking and Hearing Loss: The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study. JAMA. 1998;279(21):1715–1719. doi:10.1001/jama.279.21.1715