We all know a few basic things when it comes to maintaining our health. We know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, while foods high in fat and sugar are not. We also know that we should exercise regularly, as sitting still contributes to serious health problems. But what about our ears? What do we know about caring for them?
Ear and hearing care guidelines aren’t quite as ingrained into us as diet and exercise guidelines are. Yet it’s estimated that half of all cases of hearing impairment and deafness are preventable - that means simply caring for your ears properly can protect you from most common hearing issues later in life.
That’s where we come in. As hearing experts and healthcare professionals, our #1 goal is to help our patients hear better - and that begins with good ear care and protection. Remember: once your hearing is damaged, it's gone for good. To maintain and protect good ear health and hearing, it’s best to do the following:
1. Monitor for - and avoid - loud noises. While it’s common knowledge that loud noises are hard on the ears, knowing how to measure and judge noise volume isn’t quite as well known. Even if someone knows that any sound over 85dB can be harmful, the average person isn’t going to immediately notice when volume levels pass that benchmark.
Fortunately, there are a few signs of trouble that people can observe to help them evaluate noise levels. In general, noise is probably loud enough to damage your hearing:
- if you have to raise your voice to talk to other people
- if you can't hear what people nearby are saying
- if it hurts your ears
- and/or you have ringing in your ears or muffled hearing afterward (ideally, though, this shouldn’t happen!)
2. Protect your ears around loud noises. It’s not always possible to avoid loud noises entirely. Our work and home environments can each contribute to hearing loss, thanks to exposure to everything from work equipment, to music venues, to generally loud sounds in the neighborhood (i.e. lawnmowers, motorbikes, etc.). So if you find yourself in a noisy space, it’s best to block some of that sound out. This is especially true if you go to a concert or sporting event, where loudspeakers combined with crowds ramp up the noise to an even higher volume. Earplugs are a convenient and easy way to do block out that excess noise. You can even have a pair custom fitted for your ears if OTC ones are uncomfortable for you. Additionally, if you’re exposed to loud noise at work, your HR department is obligated to take steps to help protect you - so be sure to discuss ear care measures with them if needed.
3. Turn down the volume on your devices. The rise of popularity in headphones and digital devices is one of the biggest risks to our hearing today. According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults worldwide are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss from unsafe use of personal audio devices. Put simply, if you like to enjoy music through headphones or earbuds, you need to protect your ears. One way to do this is by following the 60/60 rule: listen with headphones at no more than 60% of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time. (Scheduling hourly five-minute breaks will give your ears a chance to “recover” from headphone use.) Additionally, when choosing how to listen to your playlist of choice, know that headphones are a little better than earbuds (which go directly into the ear). Another good rule of thumb? Use noise-canceling earphones or headphones – don't just turn the volume up to cover up other sounds.
4. Skip the cotton swabs. It’s often tempting to clean out our ears using cotton swabs, especially since we’re raised and taught to do so as part of our general hygiene. Unfortunately, using these swabs is a bad idea. Our ears rely on wax to keep dust and other harmful particles from getting into the ear canal. Removing wax can actually upset the natural balance and health of the ear. Plus, inserting anything - including cotton swabs - into the ear canal can lead to accidentally damaging structures in the ear, such as the eardrum. If you have an excess amount of wax in the ear, it’s best to use an official ear wax removal solution over the course of a few nights. This softens the wax so that it will eventually flow out on its own. If this isn’t enough, seek a professional opinion and care.
5. Understand medication side effects. Every medication has potential side effects. Some can even contribute to hearing loss. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re taking. Always read the bottles of your OTC counters. Additionally, always discuss prescription medications with your doctor, and take them only as directed. If needed, consider an alternative medication.
6. Keep calm and get moving. Did you know that exercise is good for your ears? Cardio exercises in particular increase blood flow to all parts of your body - including the ears. And, just like other important organ and bodily functions, healthy blood flow helps the ears’ internal parts stay healthy and working to their maximum potential. Plus, exercise also helps with stress management - and stress and anxiety have been linked to both temporary and permanent ringing in the ears.
7. Get regular checkups and hearing tests. Hearing loss is a gradual health problem that grows over time. With that in mind, even if you adhere to these other care guidelines, it’s still important to get regular hearing tests that check on your ears and give you a chance to see how they’re doing. Only by knowing the state of your ears can you take action to address your specific hearing health needs.
Do you have additional, specific questions or concerns about how to care for your ears? Do you need to meet with a hearing professional for a consultation or a hearing test? We can help! Just contact us via phone or request an appointment online. We’re here and we’re ready to ensure you can hear your best for years to come.