How to prevent hearing loss, no matter your age
Getting your hearing checked may seem unnecessary until you reach a certain age, but hearing experts tell us that’s not true. Though we associate hearing loss with an older demographic, hearing loss is affecting people of all ages, including young adults
From high volumes of music transmitted through earbuds, to noisy workplaces followed by noisy restaurants and bars, younger people are exposing themselves to volumes that threaten the health of their hearing—and they’re not doing much to protect themselves.
Dr. Whitney Reaman is a doctor of audiology at The Hearing Loss Clinic in Calgary and she’s seen firsthand how increased noise in our daily lives can have an adverse effect. For her, the message is simple: hearing health is health.
“Everybody gets their teeth checked, their eyes checked, if you have aches and pains you go to physio,” said Reaman. “Hearing should be the same. [It should be checked and monitored the same way we preventatively check our eyes, our teeth, and the rest of our bodies.]”
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, hearing loss is the “third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease.” And in an interview Melanie Campbell, a speech language pathologist, said “The primary cause these days is noise-induced hearing loss, and that means noise that we invite into our ears.”
Of course, we invite noise into our ears in all kinds of ways, but unfortunately if excessive noise is part of your nine-to-five, it’s a bit harder to control.
With 140,300 people employed in Alberta’s mining and oil and gas sectors in 2017 alone—sectors in which occupational hearing loss is “consistently high”— there’s cause for concern when it comes to hearing health. According to the government of Alberta, noise is one of the most common workplace hazards
“There can be a lot of noise exposure with any sort of industrial work,” said Reaman. “We definitely have younger people coming in [to our office] with noise-induced hearing loss.”
But there are things you can do to protect your hearing today that will save you lots of potential pain in the future, whether you think you’re exposed to dangerous levels or not.
Create a baseline
One of the reasons it’s smart to get checked out by an audiologist before problems start to occur is that it gives the audiologist a baseline to work from, should you encounter future problems. “If they come in and they’re reporting symptoms, it’s hard to know how long this has been going on for or if they’ve always had a little bit of hearing loss,” said Reaman about patients who wait too long. “Without a baseline audiogram, we don’t have that comparison.” Getting some testing beyond what your doctor might do at an annual checkup will allow an audiologist to create a profile of your hearing, which they can later use to track changes as you age.
Obviously, ear protection, like earmuffs or earplugs, is the number one way to prevent hearing loss, whether it be on the job or at a noisy concert. And certainly there are day to day noises that most of us would neglect to protect ourselves from — vacuums, lawn mowers —that can easily cause damage as well. Even when it comes to your earbuds, Reaman recommends listening to music at a volume below the halfway mark. “If you experience any ringing or buzzing in your ears after listening [with] your earbuds, that’s a red flag,” she said.
When it comes to the workplace, because it’s such a common hazard, Reaman is seeing more and more companies taking hearing protection seriously. “People seem to be more aware of it these days in terms of wearing their hearing protection [when exposed to loud noises],” she said. And hearing safety programs are more regularly becoming part of health and safety training in professions where the risk is obvious.
But it’s not just jobs that you might expect, like a mechanic or a welder. Truck drivers for instance, says Reaman, are patients she sees quite often. “Oftentimes their left ear will be worse than the right, especially if they did a lot of driving with the window down.” Overall, be reasonable and note when a persistent noise makes your ears ring, then cover up!
It’s not just noise level, it’s exposure time
While a loud burst of noise like a gunshot can certainly be detrimental, there’s more to consider when it comes to damaging your hearing. “A lot of people think noise has to be very loud in order to cause hearing damage,” said Reaman. “It’s not only the volume, but the length of time [that you are exposed to sound] that you have to consider.” Consistent droning noises, like that of a subway, can cause just as much harm as a jackhammer if you’re not protected. Though, of course, don’t discount those loud gunshot noises from your annual hunting trip, either. “[Noise exposure] doesn’t need to be a regular [or repetitive] thing to cause hearing damage,” said Reaman.
During testing, audiologists at the Hearing Loss Clinic will conduct tests to check the health of the eardrum, and the reflexes of the ear. For even slight hearing loss, audiologistss can both provide you with conversation strategies to better help you hear and communicate in noisy environments like a restaurant, and teach you how to prevent further damage.
Getting regular checkups and beginning to consider your hearing health like you do the health of the rest of your body can go a long way, said Reaman.
“Be more proactive about it, rather than waiting to have ringing in your ears.”