By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Losing your hearing can be a scary experience. The unknown or panic of decreasing hearing ability can send many people into depression or nervousness and even cause them to withdraw from important social interactions.
Hearing loss can be so gradual that many people don’t notice the effects until it is too late.
Hearing is one of the five senses, which is a complex process of picking up sound and attaching meaning to it.
There are many things about hearing and hearing loss that people don’t know and hearing specialists are available to help people navigate all the complexity involving the issue, which can reduce many of their fears and concerns.
“Hearing is one of our essential senses and the ability to hear well is important to our environment and quality of life,” said Gregory Horton, audiologist at the Rochester Hearing and Speech Center.
Horton highlights five things people should know about hearing and hearing loss.
1. Seek out routine check ups
People tend to go to their primary care doctors for regular check-ups but that doesn’t always happen when it comes to visiting an audiologist.
“You have to stay ahead of the curve and understand everything you need to know about your hearing health,” said Horton. “Changes could be happening because hearing loss tends to be gradual. Early detection is the key.”
2. Avoid using cotton swabs or excessively cleaning your ear canals.
Our parent used to say “Don’t put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow!”
Those little puffy cotton swabs that you may burrow into your ear canal to clean your ears are not as harmless as you think. While we think we are doing our ears a favor, using them to clean our ears could be having the opposite effect.
“Ear wax is not bad for you,” said Horton. “It is actually part of our body’s natural defenses. We need to keep our ears moist and healthy. When our ear canal gets too dried, that skin becomes prone to cracking, which can lead to painful infections. Also, when cotton swabs are inserted too deep into the canal, they can puncture the ear drum, which is very painful and can cause permanent hearing loss.”
3. Beware of loud sounds
Our lives are very noisy as a whole, let alone if you work in a factory or in construction. It doesn’t have to be incredibly loud for damage to happen to your ears; even lower level of noise for extended period of times can cause permanent issues to our hearing. Many people also participate in recreational activities that produce harmful sound levels, such as attending loud sporting events, music concerts and using power tools. When these activities are repeated over time, the risk of hearing loss increases.
“You have to make sure you are protecting your hearing under all circumstances,” said Horton. “Loud noises in varying degrees can cause permanent damage to your ears. We also do ourselves a disservice when we turn the music all the way up on our earbuds. Research suggests that your volume should be at no more than 80 percent for no more than 90 minutes at a time.”
Horton said people must understand their limits and make sure to reduce volumes or exposure times when they are listening to any of their personal devices.
The World Health Organization stated that 1.1 billion people worldwide are at risk for hearing loss due to recreational noise.
4. Pay attention to your symptoms
When someone first begins to feel a decrease in hearing abilities, certain symptoms come to the forefront. That includes muffling of speech and other sounds, difficulty understanding words especially in the presence of crowd or background noise, trouble hearing consonants and frequently asking others to speak slower, clearer or louder.
“A lot of times families and loved ones will notice our hearing loss before we do,” said Horton. “Sometimes it is when others are watching television or listening to music with you that they notice the volume is at a higher level than usual. You may not notice it because you are used to whatever volume you set for yourself.”
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is another common symptom of hearing loss. If you start experiencing persistent, constant or even intermittent noises in your ears that lasts for more than a few seconds, it could be related to something going on with your hearing.
5. Listen to your body.
If you start suspecting that you have some of these symptoms discussed above you should see an audiologist for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.
“There are people who do nothing and put it off for seven to 10 years. The sooner we can intervene with hearing loss, the more we can do,” said Horton. “People gloss over the effects that hearing loss can have in your daily life which can really affect a persons’ quality-of-life.”