Noise is all around us. Subtle, quiet noises of a clock ticking or a gentle rainfall can be soothing to the ears. But loud, obnoxious noises of cars honking, sirens blaring or music blasting can overload our sense of hearing leading to irreversible hearing loss.
When our environment is a constant drone of booming or deafening noise this can affect our lives mentally and physically. Having to listen to loud sounds frequently can raise our anxiety and stress levels causing irritability and headaches affecting work performance and disruptions to our sleep. And, of course, our ability to hear can be damaged permanently. It is estimated 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss with about one-third attributable to noise.
Hearing loss usually starts gradually as we age and is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficultly hearing.
The loss of hearing happens for different reasons. Presbycusis is the loss of hearing as we age and can affect some people more than others and seems to run in families. Another contributor to hearing loss is years of exposure to loud noise. Many people who worked as farmers, construction workers, musicians, airport workers or people in the armed forces have hearing loss because of a noisy environment. Other causes can be due to viral or bacterial infections, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, and certain medications.
Hearing loss can make it hard to understand people when they talking making it sound like they are mumbling especially if there is background noise. Other sounds such as hearing a doorbell ring or an alarm can sound muffled or distorted. Some people will develop tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that sometimes accompanies noise-induced hearing loss. Many people either don’t notice or don’t acknowledge they have some hearing loss until others point it out.
Losing the ability to hear can be hard for anyone to face but if it is affecting you in ways such as having difficulty hearing when visiting friends or family, trouble hearing the TV or radio, or where it is limiting your social life, it is time to address the problem.
Anytime you are exposed to loud sounds on a regular basis or if you have noticed a change in your hearing or develop tinnitus, start with your physician to seek professional advice. Often they will refer you to an otolaryngologist, an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist. Each has a different type of training and experience and can help with hearing loss.
Maintaining the ability to hear as we age is worth the effort. Here are some ways to reduce exposure to noise keeping your sense of hearing in tact:
· Wear ear protection (earplugs or protective earmuffs) when mowing the lawn or if you work at a job where you’re exposed to frequent, loud noise.
· Turn down the volume of music players or headphones. If people around you can hear the music or if you can’t hear people talking to you, the volume is too high.
· If you’re at a music club or bar or even at a sporting event, step out for five minutes every hour giving your ears a break.
· Keep your ears dry by removing excess moisture which can allow bacteria to attack the ear canal.
· Report any unusual side effects from taking a medication to your doctor if you notice it affecting your ears or hearing.
· Don’t smoke as it can raise the risk for hearing loss
· A buildup of wax in your ears can muffle sounds. Remove excess ear wax properly by using an at-home irrigation kit to soften ear wax and gently washing it out. If it gets compacted in the ear, your doctor may need to remove it.