Rates of hearing loss doubled in America between 2000 and 2015. So if you find yourself cranking up the TV volume or asking friends and family to SPEAK UP, you’re not alone. Half of all adults over age 50 have some hearing loss and, according to the National Institutes of Health, for 25 percent of them, it’s disabling.
Yet two out of three don’t realize that everyday habits, such as using earbuds to listen to music at top volume, can steal your hearing before you know it. Hearing loss isn’t just inconvenient; it can boost your risk for falls and depression, isolate you from friends and family, and even boost your risk for dementia.
These research-proven steps can help you protect your precious sense of tuning into the world and find solutions if you’re experiencing hearing loss:
1. Upgrade your earbuds Harvard researchers warn that one-third of adults who use portable music devices turn the volume up to levels that damage fragile sound-sensing cells. Switching to noise-canceling headphones or earbuds with rubber tips can help, because they quiet background noise so you won’t have to crank up your music so loud. It’s also smart to practice the 60-60 rule: No more than 60 percent volume (50 percent is even better) for no more than 60 minutes a day. And give your ears frequent breaks.
2. Keep earplugs Pack earplugs in your backpack, purse, car glove box or console, and in your airplane carry-on. Exposure to sounds louder than 70-85 decibels – like yard equipment (as loud as 99 decibels), rock concerts (120 decibels), sports events (115 decibels) and even airplane cabins (86 decibels) – harms the tiny hairs in your inner ear that convert sound waves into electrical signals. Keep foam earplugs on hand to block the noise. (We do – Dr. Mike pops his in on airplanes before takeoff.)
3. Keep blood pressure and blood sugar at healthy levels Diabetes doubles your risk for hearing problems; prediabetes increases it by 30 percent. The connection could be elevated blood glucose-related damage to the inner ear. Meanwhile, high blood pressure seems to accelerate age-related hearing loss by restricting blood flow to your inner ear and to brain regions involved with hearing.
4. Healthy weight matters Being overweight or obese can increase odds for hearing loss by 17 to 25 percent, according to a 2013 study of more than 68,000 women. Extra pounds and high-calorie foods may harm hearing by boosting inflammation and restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to delicate ear structures. Include exercise in your weight-management plan. Women in the study who logged two or more hours of walking per week lowered their risk of hearing loss by 15 percent.
5. Get a hearing test Talk to your doc if you or a loved one notices that your hearing’s not what it used to be. She can look for fixable problems and refer you to a hearing specialist if necessary. For mild hearing loss, assistive devices and smartphone apps may be all you need to better hear conversations, concerts and your favorite shows.
6. Take care of fixable causes Impacted earwax deep in your inner ear can muffle hearing. So can fluid buildup from an ear infection or from taking any of more than 100 different prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including ibuprofen, “loop” diuretics for high blood pressure, and some antibiotics. Your doc can help correct these problems.
7. Say “yes” to hearing aids Do what you can to get them. Tuning back into the sounds of the world will keep you connected with others, active and smarter. There are more options – including lower-priced models – than ever before, so you’re bound to find some that fit your budget and feel comfortable. Hearing aid users wait 10 years, on average, before getting this important equipment. Why you shouldn’t: Research suggests that tuning back into the sounds of the world can reduce depression and worry, increase social activity (hey, it’s easier to play bridge when you can hear your partner!) and even sharpen thinking skills.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Buffalo native Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.