Can’t hear the TV, a quiet conversation or your best friend on the phone? You’re not alone. Up to 52 percent of adults over age 50 may have hearing loss – half of it severe enough to interfere with everyday life.
The long-term complexities of hearing loss are far-reaching: New reports show that it triples the risk for dementia. That’s because not hearing what others say can cut you off from the world and deprive you of stimulation. That’s bad news for your mood and your mind. Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, foggy memory, slowed thinking and even brain shrinkage.
Compromised hearing can make walking more difficult – you miss tiny clues that help you stay balanced – and falls become more likely.
Some of the things that can damage the delicate, sound-sensing machinery in your inner ear include everything from aging and genetics to autoimmune disorders, ear infections, head injuries and loud noises. Some factors are beyond your control, but not all. Here are eight ways to save your hearing today.
1. Ear plugs: Keep them in your pocket, purse, car and toolbox. Exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels – that’s common cacophony for lawn mowers, rock concerts, video arcades and even noisy health clubs – damages the tiny hairs in your inner ear that convert sound waves into electrical signals. Dr. Mike pops in his earplugs on airplanes before take-off. Wear them when running yard equipment, at sporting events and during loud movies. You’ll still hear the dialogue.
2. Dial down the volume when you wear earbuds: One in three adults and three in five teens who use portable music devices crank ‘em up too high, endangering their hearing. Keep the volume set at 50 percent or less so that you can hear other sounds around you. Give your ears frequent bud-breaks.
3. Put down the cotton swabs: Earwax, a common cause of temporary hearing loss, forms on the outer third of the ear, but when you twirl cotton swabs in your ear canal, wax can get stuck deep inside. An earache, fullness, muffled hearing, even itching can be signs of wax blockage. Follow directions on wax-removal products or call your doctor.
4. Aim for healthy blood sugar: People with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as people with normal blood sugar levels. Prediabetes? Your risk is 30 percent higher. The connection could be glucose-related damage to the inner ear.
5. Lower your blood pressure: High blood pressure can speed up age-related hearing loss by reducing the flow of blood to your inner ear or to brain areas involved with hearing.
6. Recognize early signs: Don’t wait! If you notice you’re saying “What?” a lot, need the TV turned up louder or have trouble hearing on the phone, ask your doctor if you need to be referred to a hearing specialist for tests. One survey of more than 3,000 people with hearing loss found that hearing aid users had less depression and worry, and were more socially active. In another, hearing aid use even improved cognitive function. Yet hearing aid users wait, on average, 10 years before getting help. Getting tested will pinpoint the source of your hearing difficulties so that you can select the right hearing aid. Some states and insurance plans help cover the cost – which can run from $1,500 to $5,000 per ear – and more lower-priced choices are available than ever before.
7. Check your meds: Some 130 prescription and over-the-counter drugs, from ibuprofen and diuretics to certain antibiotics, can muffle hearing. Most of the time, hearing returns when you stop taking the med. Talk with your doc.
8. Watch your weight: If you’re more than a few pounds over your ideal weight, your risk for hearing loss could be 17 percent to 25 percent higher than normal. Add walking to your stay-slim program; two hours per week can significantly lower your risk for missing out on the beautiful sounds of the world.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.