Preventing hearing loss

Look around a health club, subway or any public place and you’ll see hordes of people wearing earphones to listen to music or talk on their cells. But now, a new study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health finds that 14% of people between ages 45 and 59 have hearing loss. Here’s how to make sure you don’t become one of them.

1. Use sound-isolating (not noise-cancelling) earphones in crowded places.
The earbuds that came with your iPod won’t hurt your hearing when you’re in a quiet environment, but cranking up the volume too high to drown out other noises when on a crowded street will. So in those cases, try earphones that are labeled “sound-isolating” instead. “They block just the right proportion of both high and low frequencies and allow you to hear your music perfectly at a much lower volume,” says Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Noise-cancelling headphones (which produce sound to counteract background noise) are less effective because they block mostly low frequencies, such as the constant hum on airplanes. One caveat: Never listen at more than 80 percent of the maximum volume (you can lock this volume in on many MP3 players) for more than 90 minutes a day.

2. Take supplements to protect your hearing.
Loud noises damage tiny hair-like cells in our ears that turn sound waves into signals that our brains can understand. Now, U.S. military research done on Marines exposed to gunfire has found that an over-the-counter supplement called N-acetylcysteine, available at drugstores, can help prevent permanent hearing loss much better than ear plugs. Head researcher Dr. Richard D. Kopke, physician of the Hough Ear Institute in Oklahoma City recommends taking 1,200 milligrams 12 hours before you are exposed to especially loud noise, such as a rock concert or NASCAR event. If the noise is sudden, take 1,200 mg as soon as possible and 900-1,200 mg three times a day with meals for the next 14 days.

3. Give your ears a rest.
Whenever you have to listen to a continuous, high-volume noise (e.g., a baby crying, an aerobics class or construction), try to retreat to someplace quiet for a few minutes every few hours.

4. Carry earplugs.
Damage to your hearing starts at 85 decibels. Compare that to a crying baby (90 decibels), a power lawn mower (105 decibels), a concert or sporting event (110 decibels) or a car stereo at top volume (140 decibels). So if you’re going to be exposed to anything above 85 decibels for more than a few minutes, then wear wax or foam earplugs to protect your hearing. If you’re at a concert, try earplugs that are labeled “ER-20.”

5. Consider seeing an audiologist.
Having trouble hearing after a rock concert or another loud noise exposure? If you’re still experiencing problems (including muffled sound, ringing or a sense of pressure inside your ear) 24 hours later, schedule a hearing test. An audiologist can assess any damage and recommend specific ways to protect yourself in the future. 

(Nancy Kalish for Completely You )

Read more:
Types of hearing loss


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