I recently sat down with our in-house audiologist to discuss hearing health and some of the things we can do to be more mindful about it. She had some great suggestions on good habits for better hearing health.
Hearing is a sense that many of us take for granted but it is essential to our well being and for keeping us connected to our friends, family, peers, and colleagues. Unfortunately there comes a time for almost everyone – 1 in 3 over the age of 65 to be exact – where hearing clearly in a noisy environment starts to become difficult. We may have trouble talking on the telephone, or engaging in conversation in a busy restaurant. Have you started turning up the volume on the television to hear it clearly?
Although you may associate hearing loss as something that comes with aging, recent studies have shown an alarming trend among young people of being at risk of hearing loss from prolonged exposure to loud noise, often from listening to music on their mobile devices. Why do we take our hearing health for granted? It doesn’t take much to become more mindful. Here are a few things for you to consider:
1. Know your ears
This may seem obvious, but recognizing if you are someone who has trouble with pressurization, with wax buildup, or who has small ear canals will help you prepare optimally for traveling, some leisure activities, health care appointments, even earphone/headphone purchase decisions. Knowing your ears will help you to be more prepared. Should you pack earplugs? Decongestant? Are you better suited for headphones or earphones??
2. Be prepared
Think ahead and take your surroundings into consideration. Be ready for any potential challenging ear or hearing situations. Going to a music festival all weekend? Pack a pair of earplugs and give your ears a rest from excessive noise. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
3. Educate yourself
Did you know that being exposed to noise over the levels of 85 dB for too long can seriously threaten your hearing health? A normal conversation usually measures at around 60 dB, a food blender measures at approximately 88 dB, and a typical live music performance can range anywhere up to114 dB. It’s important to identify areas of potential excessive noise in your daily activities. Equip yourself with a noise measurement app if you’re not sure (SoundLevelAnalyzer Lite – found on the App Store – is a good one and free of charge).
4. Know your tinnitus & know your triggers
Tinnitus currently affects over 55 million North Americans. It is the “perception” of sound with some describing it as roaring, rushing, hissing, chirping, beeping, buzzing, whistling, or clicking. If you suffer from some form of tinnitus, whether it be temporary (acute) or an ongoing (chronic) health ailment, you should make a habit of tracking it. Have a place to record its characteristics (duration, tone, intensity, steady or fluctuating), and its triggers. Triggers will vary by individual, some examples include red wine, sodium, caffeine, excessive noise, etc. By tracking your tinnitus you will have a better chance at effectively managing it. (Read more here)
5. Clean your ears conservatively
Most audiologists would warn against the use of cotton swabs (e.g.Q-tips) to clean your ears. If you must, do so conservatively. Don’t go past the first bend in the ear canal, and don’t force the swab in. If your baby finger can’t get in there, nor should a Q-Tip.
6. Get a baseline audiogram
Almost all of us know whether or not we have have 20/20 vision. It is equally important to understand our hearing levels. Ask your physician about options for a full baseline audiogram to keep on file and use as a comparison if hearing loss or any kind of serious illness develops. Better yet, ask your physician why he or she can’t offer this as a service as part of your annual physical exam! (Read more here)
7. Know the signs
Rarely is hearing loss something that happens overnight (besides traumatic causation). It is typically progressive which makes the gradual changes more difficult to be cognizant of. That being said, it’s important to know the signs of hearing loss. For example: having to turn up the volume on the TV, having difficulty understanding conversations in noisy environments, or having difficulty understanding a conversation if you are not facing the person who is speaking. Don’t ignore the signs of possible hearing loss. Call your doctor and ask to see a specialist.
8. Familiarize yourself with the Valsalva manoeuvre
The Valsalva manoeuvre (closing your mouth, plugging your nose, and gently attempting to push air out without allowing your cheeks to bulge) is a helpful pressure-equalization technique. It is used to balance middle ear pressure build-up caused by activities such as scuba diving and flying. It can even sometimes be used to decrease perceived ringing in the ears. If you are using the maneuver and feel you need to struggle with it, stop at once as a high amount of forced pressure may cause damage.
9. Know your family’s hearing health history
It is always helpful to educate yourself on your family’s medical history, and that includes hearing health. Hearing loss can be familial, even if developed later in life. Persistent ear infection issues, for example, can also run in families.
10. Give your ears some rest!
Like any other part of our body, it is important to rest after over-exerting yourself. Following exposure to loud sounds it is entirely possible to experience a temporary decrease in hearing. Without enough auditory rest, further exposure to sounds can result in either permanent tinnitus, or even permanent hearing loss. Turn down the volume and give your ears a break.
Being mindful is a good first step in protecting your hearing health. If it seems too loud, it probably is. If you think you are struggling in conversations, then you may have an issue. Don’t be afraid to wear hear protection, contact your local audiologist, or speak to your family physician. It never hurts to ask.