While most forms of hearing loss are not considered to be reversible or medically treatable, there are some important things we can all do to make sure we maximize our hearing health. As has been said many times, an ounce of prevention .... well, you know the rest. Here are four key elements to ensuring that our ears are in the best shape possible:
1. Avoid Loud Noise
This may seem obvious, and most people have heard this before, but noise is all around us. Importantly, it can have cumulative effects over time. So while a single loud noise, such as an explosive, can certainly damage one's hearing (and permanently so), there is a more insidious effect from being exposed to things like subways, construction noise, sirens and concerts over longer periods of time. Any one of these may not be sufficient to do damage on its own, but over time they can add up and have a significant impact on hearing. So what can you do? Trust your gut. If you encounter sounds that you just sense are too loud, they probably are. Keep a pair of inexpensive earplugs handy. And at the very least, plug your ears with your fingers if you have to. This can be a very effective form of hearing protection, especially for short-term exposures to sirens and construction noise.
2. Maintain Good Cardiovascular Health
Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between poor cardiovascular health and hearing loss, primarily due to the effect of the cardiovascular system on the blood supply to the cochlea, or inner ear organ of hearing. So you can add hearing health to the list of benefits of keeping your heart in good shape.
3. Quit Smoking
Not that you need another reason to quit if you're a smoker, but the oxygen deprivation to your cells from cigarette smoke can negatively impact the health of your inner ear. Studies have shown that smokers are at significantly greater risk for developing hearing loss than non-smokers. In addition, young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at a greater risk for developing otitis media, or middle-ear infections.
4. Stay Engaged
This one concerns the cognitive aspects of hearing rather than the ears, but of course our brains are the crucial part of the communication process. The more we can keep our brains active, especially in communicating with others and engaging socially, the better off we are in making use of what our ears are picking up. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to depression and social isolation in numerous studies, so in order to maximize what our brains have to work with, please have your hearing checked by an audiologist if you notice that you're missing things in the world of sound.
Hearing well is absolutely crucial to our overall well-being as social, communicative creatures. Be proactive and do all you can to protect and maintain this precious sense.