Hearing loss can occur at any time in life, but may be especially true as you get older. Over 28 million Americans have some form of hearing loss, according to American Family Physician magazine. Hearing loss can affect your relationships, activities you enjoy, and even the future health of your brain. It can also be associated with a lot of frustration and depression.
Yet, there are many simple things you can do to prevent, or minimize, hearing loss. There’s an even simpler remedy that many adults with hearing loss don’t take advantage of. Let me tell you more about these things and help you understand why you should do everything possible to prevent, and address, your hearing loss.
The #1 Remedy For Hearing Loss in Adults Rarely Used
I’m sure you’ve seen the many commercials on television and magazine ads advertising fashionable eyewear aimed at older people and what benefit their new, high-tech lenses can offer common vision problems of aging. There are even many designer, and Hollywood celebrities, who lend their signature design and name to lines of eyewear. They actively promote the wearing of corrective lenses/glasses as a fashion statement, downplaying the underlying medical issue of vision loss.
As a result, there’s no “social stigma” to wearing glasses or contacts and few people with vision problems refuse to seek help to correct their vision out of embarrassment or feeling “old”. Unfortunately, the same principles don’t extend to hearing loss. We don’t see fashion designers putting their brand on hearing aids and very few Hollywood celebrities lend their name or face to them.
In the few television and magazine ads we do see for hearing aids, they seem to feature frail-appearing older persons rather than the active, fashionably hip seniors we see in eyewear commercials. In addition, hearing loss in older people has always been fodder for comedy routines which doesn’t help the situation as no one wants to be the butt of bad jokes.
For these reasons, many older adults are embarrassed to admit to anyone, or see an ear doctor, when they’re having a little trouble hearing things clearly. They’re afraid that wearing a hearing aid will put them in that “old and frail” social stereotype and their friends, family, co-workers, etc, are going to start thinking of them that way. So, they’d rather mask the problem than try to solve it.
In fact, a recent study out of England’s Manchester University revealed that 1 in 10, or 10.7% of adults aged 40-69, have hearing loss yet only 1/5th, or 2.1%, use a hearing aid. The researchers found that hearing aids, despite all their technological advances in design and ease of use, as well as being the easiest remedy to hearing loss, are significantly underused in older adults. Their researchers also found that one of the most important reasons for the lack of hearing aid use is the perception of hearing loss as associated with illness and frailty.
Causes and Prevention of Hearing Loss
You may start to think differently about using a hearing aid if your hearing loss begins to adversely affect your life. Let’s look at some of the things that can cause hearing loss – some of them may surprise you.
1. Loud Noise. Probably the #1 cause of hearing impairment is constant exposure to loud noise. Working in a loud environment (airplanes, factories, construction workers, musicians, etc) and/or living near constant high decibel noise can impair hearing. Even doing yard work with high-noise tools like chain saws, lawn mowers, can permanently damage your hearing in less than 15 minutes. Protect your hearing by using noise muting ear plugs.
2. Drugs. You might be surprised to learn that some of the common over-the-counter drugs you take, as well as prescriptions, can have an “ototoxic” (ear toxin) effect on your hearing. Recent research shows that common pain relievers – aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) – can damage your hearing.
A recent Harvard University study revealed that regular use of these common analgesics can cause hearing loss in men – especially those over age 50 who were 38% more likely to develop hearing loss. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital study showed that one-third of women in their 50’s and nearly two-thirds of women in their 60’s have experienced hearing loss – many who used OTC pain relievers 2 or more times a week for many years. Researchers feel that these drugs may affect blood flow to the cochlea – the hearing organ of the ear.
Another study out of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, revealed that a man’s use of PDE-5i-type, prescription erectile dysfunction drugs, likeViagra, Cialis, Levitra, et al, may also cause long-term hearing loss. In their study, men who used these drugs were found twice as likely to develop hearing loss than those who did not use them. Like the pain relievers cited above, ED drugs seem to affect blood flow to the cochlea resulting in hearing loss.
3. Pressure. Activities that cause pressure to build up in the ears, like flying on planes, scuba diving, entering higher altitude areas, makes people want to “pop” their ears through holding the nose and blowing out forcefully. Yet, this can cause a burst or torn eardrum. Sinus and allergy conditions can cause pressure to build up in ears as well through over-production of mucus that may be leaking into the eustachian tubes of the ear.
Hearing loss is no different from vision loss or having a problem with your teeth. The longer you ignore it out of embarrassment, the more of a problem it will likely become. If you’re an older adult experiencing hearing loss – if it’s gotten harder for you to distinguish speech against background noise clearly – you’ll want to visit an ear doctor and get an audiology exam.
This exam can determine what level of hearing loss you may have, if it’s temporary, and what treatment options you have. If the loss is permanent, and your doctor suggests a hearing aid to better assist your hearing, there are many new hearing devices that allow you to wear them discreetly. Don’t lose out on important conversations, or communicating effectively with your friends, relatives, coworkers, when new technology in hearing can make your life so much more functional.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Hearing Loss May Be Associated with the Use of Erectile Dysfunction Drugs http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518105146.htm
Popular Pain Relieving Medicines Linked to Hearing Loss in Women http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120912125832.htm
Regular Analgesic Use Increases Hearing Loss in Men http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100301091421.htm
Only One-Fifth of People Wear Hearing Aids, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140318093359.htm