While nearly 50 million people in the United States suffer from some degree of hearing impairment, there are several types of hearing loss that are considered preventable. Preventing hearing loss is incredibly important because once the damage is done, it is permanent and cannot be reversed. Any form of hearing loss can have a significant impact on your quality of life, and affect your ability to communicate, work, and even enjoy leisure activities.
Lifelong hearing health starts with knowing how to prevent hearing loss, and the simple ways you can protect yourself in your everyday life.
By knowing the causes and the preventive measures you can take to protect yourself, you can greatly reduce your risk of hearing loss and maintain a healthy quality of life.
How to Prevent Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a type of hearing loss that occurs as a result of unprotected exposure to loud noise. It can be caused by a single loud event, or by exposure to loud noises for prolonged periods of time.
The prevalence of NIHL in the US (United States) is all the more alarming due to the fact that this condition is absolutely preventable. It also emphasizes the importance of understanding the dangers of loud noise and the consequences of not protecting your hearing.
Many people may not realize how damaging everyday sounds can be to their hearing quality, or how prolonged exposure to loud environments or situations can add up over time, putting their hearing at risk.
Common Causes of Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Some of the most common causes of NIHL are actually noises you are likely exposed to every day. Without proper preventative measures, your risk of hearing loss increases the longer you are exposed to loud noises. Similarly, the louder a sound is, the less time it takes to damage your hearing permanently.
Headphones, when listened to at or near maximum volume
Car stereos, home entertainment systems, or other audio devices, when listened to at high volumes
Power tools, hair dryers, and other loud electronic tools
Lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other gas-powered tools
Busy restaurants or bars
Sirens, alarms, automotive backfire, fireworks
Motorized sport events
Busy city streets
Military Armed Forces and Veterans
Pilots and Flight Attendants
Easy Steps to Prevent Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is a 100 percent preventable condition. However, in some cases avoiding loud noises is simply not possible. This is especially true for people who work in environments that are naturally loud, such as construction workers or musicians.Even outside of specific jobs, everyone will likely encounter loud sounds at some point in their day-to-day lives, like when mowing the lawn or sitting in traffic.
In these scenarios, it is still possible to take steps to prevent noise induced hearing loss caused by loud noises:
Wear properly fitted hearing protection like earplugs or over-the-head earmuffs when you are in loud environments or around loud noises.
Reduce loud noises at the source by keeping machinery and equipment in good working condition.
Create an enclosure or add a barrier that increases the distance between yourself and the source of the loud sounds.
Take frequent breaks from loud activities, and noisy environments to give your ears time to recover, and to limit excessive exposure.
Always keep your music volume, or other audio entertainment at a safe listening level.
Keep your vehicle windows rolled up when stuck in traffic or while driving in busy areas or big cities.
Get your hearing tested by an audiologist before or at the first onset of possible NIHL symptoms, such as ringing in your ears, or sounds seeming muffled or dull. The earlier NIHL is diagnosed the sooner you can take the steps necessary to prevent further irreversible hearing loss.
Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Ear Injuries or Trauma
Trauma to the ear, face, or head are common injuries that millions of people experience every year. The resulting damage can range in severity, but should always be taken seriously, as any injury to the inner or middle of the ear, can result in significant hearing loss.
Common Injuries That Can Cause Hearing Loss
From changes in air pressure to accidental falls, or whiplash, there is a wide range of ear injuries that can result in hearing loss. Depending on the cause of the injury, symptoms of inner ear trauma can vary, but typically include:
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, which can also sound like humming, buzzing, or roaring
Discharge from the ear (typically blood or pus)
Mild to server ear pain (earache)
Headache or migraine
Ear injuries can range in severity and may be life-threatening. If you, or a loved one, is experiencing severe ear pain, bleeding, hearing loss, or dizziness, especially after a head injury, fall, or other accident, seek emergency help immediately.
Here are some of the most common types of injuries to the middle ear and inner ear that can cause irreversible damage and affect hearing.
Ear Bone Fractures
These tiny bones in the middle of the ear are called Auditory Ossicles, or “hearing bones,” as they are responsible for transmitting sound waves from the eardrum to the inner ear. When these bones break or become dislocated, usually resulting from trauma along the jaw or side of the face, hearing loss can occur.
Healthy eardrums send sound wave vibrations to the “hearing bones” in the middle ear. Damage to the eardrum such as a hole or tear in the tissue can cause varying degrees of hearing loss and is usually a result of a sudden change in air pressure, severe trauma to the head, foreign objects in the ear, congestion, or extremely loud sounds.
Any foreign object in the ear can cause damage to tissue, cartilage, and bones, resulting in hearing loss. A foreign object is anything in the ear canal that normally would not be there, such as a cotton swab, or any other small object.
Ways to Prevent Trauma-induced Hearing Loss
While some types of ear injuries are simply out of your control, there are a number of ways to lower your risk of severe inner ear trauma and permeant hearing loss, including:
Always wear protective headgear, such as a helmet while riding a bike, motorcycle, etc., or while participating in any contact sports such as football, wrestling, etc.
Always wear properly fitted ear protection in loud environments or while near loud noises.
Chew gum, yawn to pop your ears, or wear special earplugs to reduce pressure build-up, like when on an airplane.
Always use your earbuds or headphones at a safe volume level.
Never put anything in your ear canal, not even to clean them with a cotton swab.
How to Prevent Medication-induced Hearing Loss (Ototoxicity)
Medication-induced hearing loss, known as ototoxicity, is a type of hearing loss caused by certain medicines or chemicals that harm the inner ear. You may also hear this condition referred to as “ear poisoning”, which is not a medical term but is a fairly accurate description of ototoxicity.
Ototoxic medications are typically prescription drugs used to treat cancer, infections, or other illnesses. What this means is that most ototoxic medications are lifesaving, and despite the unfortunate side effect of hearing loss, many patients need them to treat these underlying conditions.
Ototoxicity can cause permanent hearing loss, but if it is detected early enough, it is possible to prevent further damage. In some cases where the symptoms were detected early on, parts of the inner ear may even be able to heal to some degree.
By detecting ototoxicity early on, your healthcare provider can help mitigate the side effects as much as possible and prevent further hearing loss. This makes it crucial to keep an eye out for the symptoms of ototoxicity, which can come on suddenly, or gradually over time while taking the medication.
Symptoms of Ototoxicity:
Tinnitus, which can sound like a ringing, humming, buzzing, or roaring
Problems with balance
Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
Problems focusing on specific sounds if there is too much background noise
Noticeable hearing loss in one or both ears
Find a Hearing Clinic Near You
Preventing hearing loss is an essential part of maintaining your overall health and quality of life. By understanding the different types of preventable hearing loss and their causes, you can take steps to protect your ears from loud noises and injuries that can cause irreversible damage. Remember to always wear properly fitted ear protection, be mindful of the symptoms of possible hearing loss, and seek medical attention immediately, if you experience any kind of head trauma.
We encourage you to take proactive steps to preserve your hearing by meeting with one of our highly experienced hearing health professionals at any of our hearing clinics conveniently located throughout the United States. Don’t wait until it’s too late – take action now to protect your hearing for years to come.
Dr. Kristy Lowery, Ph.D., CCC-A, FAAA has over fifteen years of experience helping patients of all ages in a variety of settings including ear, nose and throat clinics as well as in private practice. She is a Fellow in the...