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Preventing Hearing Loss

Osteoarthritis and hearing loss are preventable conditions that rarely get much press. Some hearing loss is acceptable, as is some degree of degenerative changes in joints. However, preventing hearing loss can drastically improve our quality of life.

Excess Sound Exposure

There is a pyramid of excess sound. The peak of it is built with sound exposure over time, and the base is episodes of high-decibel sounds.

Unfortunately, the decibel (dB) scale isn’t very useful to the average person because it’s not linear but logarithmic. For example, an increase of 10 dB represents a tenfold increase in intensity, and an increase of 20 dB represents a hundredfold increase.

Alternative sound scales such as the Sone, Phon, or Weighted Decibel scales may be more helpful.

Sources of Loud Noise

Someone sneezing in your ear isn’t a concern because the duration is relatively short, regardless of how loud it is. But, if this happens multiple times throughout the day, there would be a concern for “excess exposure.”

Loud motorcycles and commercial trucks in your neighborhood are a common source of loud noise. Listening to that is unpleasant, but you might have gotten accustomed to it.

Headphones are another source. If you have a favorite song, turn it up! The chance of damage to the sensitive hair cells in the ear is pretty low if it’s for just a few minutes. But a longer duration makes that pyramid triangle larger and more concerning.

Duration of Loud Noise

What we want to avoid is exposure to high-decibel sounds for long periods.

Imagine riding your bike and passing a very loud highway; that’s problematic and, over time, could increase your risk of hearing loss. The best way to prevent hearing loss would be to use earplugs, which would greatly reduce the dB.

An average concert has decibels in the 100-120 range, which is relatively high. Exposure to this for more than 15 minutes may cause cumulative damage. To prevent hair cell damage, you would need specific earplugs or noise-canceling headphones in this setting.

Take Regular Breaks From Headphones

If you’re a regular headphone user, set your timer and turn the music off after an hour. Then, you can safely continue wearing your headphones if you like.

The goal is to prevent long periods of constant noise directly into the ears to help decrease the risk of hearing loss.

Common Causes of Hearing Loss

Besides high sound exposure, presbycusis can also be caused by some metabolic and neurovascular issues.

Those with cardiovascular disease seem to either suffer from poor circulation or elevated blood pressure, which causes damage to the auditory nerves.

Diabetes or any blood sugar problem may damage the small blood vessels supplying the nerves to the ears.

Medications such as ibuprofen, chemotherapy, antibiotics, and aspirin can also cause hearing loss.

One way to prevent hearing loss is to minimize damage to the brain, such as repetitive concussions.

Smoking and heavy metal exposure can also lead to hearing loss.

Efficacy of Hearing Aids

This wonderful technology has quite a few limitations. So, if you plan on going all out on your ears, hoping for future hearing aids to fix any hearing loss, consider that even the best ones (today) may have a tough time helping you hear well in noisy environments.

Over time, hearing loss due to excess loud sound exposure can also lead to ringing. This is a frustrating condition and many of my patients with tinnitus have a tough time with it.

Fortunately, many of my patients who couldn’t prevent hearing loss or suffered it despite good environmental hygiene are living well with hearing aids.

Apps to Test Your Hearing

My favorite app is the Sennheiser Hearing Test, which tells you how sensitive your hearing is. Below is my report. This is considered a normal test result and the app provides all the explanations.

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