Hearing loss is common as you get older. Here’s how to turn up the volume and improve your quality of life.
If you’re constantly asking others to repeat themselves—or you watch TV at full volume or with the closed captioning on—there’s a good chance you’re not hearing as well as you should be.
You’re not alone. About half of Americans who are 65 or older have some degree of hearing loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most of the time, it’s simply the result of getting older and having been exposed to loud noises over the years.
If your hearing seems to be getting worse, don’t panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going deaf. In fact, following a few simple tips might do your ears a favor. Turn up the volume and improve your quality of life with these five steps.
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1. Understand It’s Not Just You
Your auditory nerve (which sends signals from your ear to your brain) and inner ears change as you get older. This affects how your brain receives sound signals.
Some signs to look for include:
- Struggling to hear while talking on the phone
- Thinking others are mumbling, slurring their words, or not talking loud enough
- Not understanding conversations when there is background noise
- Always turning up the TV and radio volume
It’s important to never ignore signs of hearing loss because it can lead to other health problems. For example, your ears help you keep your balance and struggling to hear can cause falls. Hearing loss can also lead to problems with your memory, difficulty concentrating, social isolation, and loneliness.
2. Test Your Hearing
If poor hearing is impacting your quality of life, then it’s wise to see an expert, says Kristine Arthur, M.D., an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Laguna Woods, California. Your doctor or an ENT (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) can test your hearing.
First, the doctor will look inside your ear with a small magnifier to check for any damage or infections. This will be followed up by one of many hearing tests. The most common one includes listening to a series of beeps and words through headphones and reacting as you hear them.
Having a hearing exam can help your doctor rule out more serious health conditions like diabetes. On the other hand, trouble hearing can also be caused by something as harmless as ear wax.
While you’re waiting for your ear appointment, you can take an online hearing test or at-home questionnaire like this one here. Make sure you share your results with your doctor.
3: Review Your Medication
All medications have the potential to cause side effects, but you may be surprised to learn that some can take a toll on your hearing.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen can make it harder to hear. So can a slew of prescription drugs, including some antibiotics, cancer drugs, and blood pressure medications.
Make a list of the OTC and prescription medications you’re currently taking. And ask your doctor to review the list to see if anything might be impacting your hearing. If so, ask if you can lower your dose or change to another medication that doesn’t have this side effect.
4. Consider Your Options
If your hearing loss is bad enough, the doctor may suggest a hearing aid. This device will make sounds stronger and easier for you to hear. There have been major advancements in hearing aids over the past few decades. Even better: many are now very small and discreet.
If your hearing loss is so severe that a hearing aid can’t help, you may be a candidate for a cochlear implant. This electronic device has two parts: one that sits behind your ear and another that gets surgically inserted under your skin.
Unlike a hearing aid, these devices don’t make sounds louder. Instead, they let sound travel around the damaged part of the ear and send them directly to your auditory nerve. You “hear” because your brain quickly learns to associate the signals from the implant with sounds you remember, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Your doctor can explain the different options and help you figure out what might work best for you. While Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids, it does cover diagnostic hearing exams and cochlear implants. And some Medicare Advantage Plans may include hearing aid and fitting coverage. Visit your health plan website or call the customer service number for benefits information.
5. Take Action to Prevent Further Hearing Loss
Whether a hearing aid is right for you or a cochlear implant is the better option, there are other simple ways you can protect your hearing from getting worse, Dr. Arthur says.
The best thing you can do, she says, is to avoid exposure to loud noises as much as possible. If you’re going to be around loud sounds like a lawn mower or fireworks, wear protective earplugs or earmuffs. Noises from firearms, jet engines, motorcycles, and loud music all have the potential to harm your hearing, too.
Another important tip to remember is never stick anything in your ears. This includes cotton swabs and your fingers which can damage your eardrums. Everyone has wax in their ears, and it’s usually best to leave it alone. If too much wax build-up is muffling the world around you, your doctor can safely remove it.
See our sources:
Age-related hearing loss: National Institute on Aging
Hearing loss stats: Mayo Clinic
Cochlear implants: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders
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