Can You Hear Me Now? Tips to Maintain Ear Health as You Age
Posted on: 05 October 2018 by Brooke Bowman
Ear health is important as you age. Here are five ways to better protect your ears today to prevent long-term damage and hearing loss.
Ear health is one medical concern that truly begins with proactive and preventative care. Though hearing loss is commonly associated with the senior population, its root causes begin much earlier in life. Taking the time to properly care for your ears at any age is essential to ensuring they are working as well as possible down the road.
Though there are a few ear care tips you may already know about, some are less obvious but equally beneficial. Whether you’re 20, 45 or 75, the below tips can help you protect your ears from potentially damaging conditions and environments. Let’s get started!
1. Minimize exposure to loud noises.
This one goes without saying, but routine and repeat exposure to very loud noises can wreak havoc on your eardrums. While the occasional concert or fireworks show is perfectly fine, this is especially a concern for those who work in very loud professional environments, such as welders or construction workers. In these instances, protective ear gear must be worn daily to ensure against long-term damage to the inner ear.
For all others, to the best extent possible, experts recommend following the 60/60 rule. Put simply, this means listening to music or other noises at 60% volume for only 60 minutes a day. Breaking it up as such allows your eardrums a chance to rest and reduces the likelihood of any ear health issues that may arise from daily exposure.
2. Clean with care.
Most of us are used to the practice of gently pressing a Q-tip or cotton swab into our eardrums to remove excess wax. Yet, just because everyone in your family does it does not mean it’s a safe practice. Push just a millimeter too far and you could damage your tender eardrum. The better approach is to lightly moisten a washcloth with warm water and use it to gently clean around your ear’s outer parts, never pressing inside the canal.
Keep in mind that not all wax is bad. In fact, to a degree, wax protects our ears. It keeps dust, dirt and other debris from traveling too deeply inside our eardrum, which could lead to hearing loss and discomfort. Yet, if you have an excessive build-up and the washcloth method isn’t addressing it, you can always ask your doctor to take a look. Letting it fester for too long can lead to itching, infection and also partial hearing loss. A healthcare professional can use an otoscope to look inside your ear, then safely remove the wax.
3. Request a lower pitch.
Our first instinct when we cannot hear someone is to request that they speak louder. Yet, did you know that over time, repeat exposure to louder frequencies can actually render our eardrums less capable of discerning them?
This is because our eardrums don’t vibrate as easily when we hear a loud or high-pitched sound. Instead, if you can’t hear someone, ask them to speak lower. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s actually healthier and easier for our ears to hear lower pitches than high ones. This is especially the case when communicating with children, who tend to naturally take on a higher pitch.
If you’re considering hearing aids, you can reference this website for some of the industry’s top picks. Once yours are properly fitted, you’ll be able to adjust the sounds around you to a more comfortable level. You can use this function to lower any uncomfortable pitches around you as well. An added bonus? This way, everyone in the room won’t be privy to your conversation!
4. Treat ear infections immediately.
You might think that rest and a few at-home remedies will take care of that nagging ear infection. Yet, if you let it go too long you risk permanently damaging your inner ear. Instead, see a doctor at the first sign that something is wrong. If not, that harmful bacteria is left to sit inside your ear canal, where it can spread into both the eardrum and even the bones surrounding your middle ear. When these areas are compromised, they can lead to permanent hearing loss or even deafness.
The takeaway? Ear infections are serious business for anyone, at any age, but senior should especially take the time to get them checked out as soon as possible. Not sure if you have an ear infection? Look for yellow discharge, persistent itching, a burning sensation or an earache that you just can’t shake. When in doubt, get checked out!
5. Reduce ear pressure while traveling.
Do you travel frequently for work or to visit family? If so, you’re likely familiar with the stuffiness that you feel in your ears when the plane reaches a high altitude. While this can be uncomfortable in most situations, it can be damaging in some. Too much pressure on your eardrum can damage it for the long-term.
To reduce that pressure, bring something along with you on your flight that can help you swallow and alleviate it. Common remedies are chewing gum and hard candies, both of which increase saliva in the mouth. Yawning is another remedy, as is gently holding your nose and puffing up your cheeks with air.
Keeping Your Ears Healthy is Serious Business
While the above tips are simple enough to implement, following through with them is critical to maintaining ear health over your lifetime. Not only can untreated hearing loss lead to isolation and depression, it can also change the neural pathways in our brains. How? We use our brains to hear and hold conversations and when we are unable to do so, those pathways are changed over time.
Moreover, as you age it is important to hear all sounds clearly to help ensure your safety and prevent falls or wandering into unsafe territories. This is one basic care routine that doesn’t take long to practice, but which could make a substantial difference in your quality of life down the road. Speak with your doctor or primary care physician about any necessary changes you need to make to ensure your ears are in tip-top condition.