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October marks National Protect Your Hearing Month, a campaign that raises awareness about hearing loss and ways to protect hearing health. Hearing loss is the third most common, chronic, medical condition that people experience today. Impacting over 48 million people, nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of impaired hearing. Though it is a pervasive health issue, hearing loss remains underdiagnosed.
Various factors contribute to this delay in treatment: hearing loss typically occurs gradually so it can remain unnoticed for quite some time, it can be difficult to acknowledge changes to health, and a common misconception is that hearing loss is not too serious of a health issue. But it is important to know that living with impaired hearing has multifaceted effects on all aspects of life and if left untreated, can be detrimental to overall health. This month is a great reminder to prioritize your hearing health and learn about the ways you can protect your hearing!
What Causes Hearing Loss?
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss. Common causes include the following:
- Existing medical conditions: several medical conditions increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes which impact blood and oxygen flow, impacting the auditory system.
- Exposure to loud noise: one of the most common causes of hearing loss, one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. THese hair cells help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to be further processed. Loud noise can cause these hair cells to lose sensitivity and/or die, resulting in hearing loss.
- Aging: also known as presbycusis, age related hearing loss can occur as a result of existing medical conditions that impact older adults disproportionately, changes to the ear that can happen over time, and/or the cumulation of loud noise exposure.
- Other: a few other causes of hearing loss include head/neck injuries, bone growths, chronic ear infections etc.
These factors typically lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the most common type of hearing loss which is caused by damage to the physical structures of the ear(s).
Hearing Loss Symptoms & Impact
Hearing loss deteriorates a person’s abilities to detect and process sound, producing a range of symptoms that strain communication. This includes:
- Tinnitus, often referred to as ringing in the ears, is the perception of hearing sound when there is no external sound present in the environment. THis sound is often described as a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise.
- Frequently asking others to speak louder, slower, and/or repeat themselves.
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices.
- Sounds are slurred or muffled, making it difficult to identify individual words
- Needing to move to a quieter space to have a conversation
- Lip reading or pretending to hear as others are talking
These symptoms can be experienced mildly to more severely, affecting capacity to navigate a conversation. This can lead to miscommunication, shortened conversations, and unpleasant interactions. SOcial withdrawal is a major outcome of untreated hearing loss, as people retreat from social interactions and avoid conversations altogether. This not only contributes to loneliness and anxiety, but also impacts relationships by creating distance and tension. In addition to taking a toll on mental health, untreated hearing loss also increases other health risks like cognitive decline and accidental injuries.
Tips to Protect Your Hearing Health
Prioritizing your hearing health and practicing safety measures can drastically reduce your risk of experiencing hearing loss. A few simple tips you can integrate into daily life include:
- Wear protective gear: this includes headphones, ear plugs, and earmuffs which offer a protective barrier for the ears. This reduces the amount and impact of noise you absorb.
- Reduce volume: maintain a healthy volume on your electronic devices. A great way to help do this is by investing in noise cancellation headphones which are designed to minimize background noise, preventing you from having to increase the volume on devices as you move through louder spaces.
- Take listening breaks: this is a useful way to give your ears and brain a break from constantly absorbing and processing sound. You can easily do this by powering off sources of noise and resting in a quieter environment.
Are you ready to invest in your hearing health? Schedule an appointment with us to have your hearing tested. This assesses your hearing health and identifies any impairment, establishing your hearing needs! We look forward to helping you hear at your best.