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Health & Wellness

6 Tips to Protect Hearing at Any Age

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Ronna Fisher remembers the dinner party clearly. There were about 10 people there, and she asked the woman across from her, “How’s your dad?”

When the woman said, “He died,” Fisher misheard it as, “He’s fine.”

She replied, “That’s great, tell him I said hello.”

It was an embarrassing moment, and it speaks volumes about the sorts of misunderstandings that can come with hearing loss. Fisher, who is the founder of Hearing Health Center in Chicago (and who also relies on hearing aids), knows those misunderstandings more intimately than most. Her father suffered from hearing loss as a result of rheumatic fever as a child. That challenge is something that impacted her entire family, says Fisher. The relationship between her parents suffered, her dad didn’t want to go out because he was afraid he’d mishear and say the wrong thing, and no one wanted to watch TV with him because the volume was so loud. She says he became frustrated, angry, and depressed. And he inspired her to become an audiologist, in hopes of helping others avoid that spiral.

“All over the world, the one thing that makes people the happiest is spending time with the people they care about and love,” she says. “When your hearing ability declines, and you misunderstand or don't hear clearly, you no longer enjoy those connections.”

Today, Fisher’s mission is to impart the importance of hearing and educate people on how to protect it, at any age. She shared this advice with GetOld:

  1. First, understand how important your hearing is. While your eyes may close and rest, your ears are always working. “You can hear around corners. You can hear a baby cry at night. They’re alerting you all the time, and keep you in touch with your environment,” says Fisher. “That’s how we learn. Unless you were born deaf in a totally different culture, basically everything you learn is through your sense of hearing.”
  2. Everyone should have their hearing tested. “Nobody thinks about their hearing,” says Fisher. “Even doctors don’t think to check it.” That means it’s up to you to make the appointment. If you think your hearing has suffered, you should definitely have it tested. But even if you think you’re hearing fine, it’s good to have a health care professional, such as an audiologist, check it out. That way, you have a baseline to compare it to later on.
  3. Protect your ears. For Fisher, using ear protection is as essential as sun protection. Of course, it wasn’t always that way. She’s a Baby Boomer who grew up seeking the perfect tan. But by the time she had kids, she knew the dangers of skin cancer, and sun protection was a given for the whole family. “Now, it's an ingrained habit. My kids automatically put on sun screen without even thinking about it,” she says. She preaches the same message when it comes to ear protection.
  4. Turn the volume down. Fisher says she’s seeing more and more young people come to her with hearing problems, which she believes may be related to ear buds placed deep into their ear canal. It’s a big change, she says, from when she grew up carrying around a portable tape player and wearing ear phones that rested on top of her ears. “The sound is much more intense, and you can listen as long as you want,” she says. “It’s causing major hearing loss.” She says that people need to turn the volume down. They should be able to hear someone talking to them while listening. If they can’t, it’s too loud. Everybody, and especially people who work in loud environments, such as construction workers and dentists, should protect their hearing. The same goes for people attending concerts. Those inexpensive ear plugs sold at drug stores can make an enormous difference, says Fisher, when used properly.
  5. Don’t put things into your ears to decrease your wax. Wax, says Fisher, plays an important role in ear health. “All ears should have wax. It’s good. It’s protective. It repels bugs and keeps your ears moist. It’s there for a reason,” she says. Some people make the mistake of using cotton swabs and ear candles, thinking they are removing wax. In reality, she says that cotton swabs only push the wax in deeper and could cause problems, and ear candles can cause burns (and also don’t help with ear wax). She says that if someone does produce too much wax – which isn’t especially common – they can have it removed by a professional.
  6. If your ears are ringing, give them a break. If you’ve just heard a loud noise or attended a raucous concert and your ears are ringing, head to a quiet place and let them rest. “Loud noise can cause temporary hearing loss,” she says. “At that point, there’s nothing you can do except hope it stops.” If it doesn’t stop, see tip No. 1: it may be time to get your ears checked.

Like almost all aspects of our health, hearing is something that many of us don’t appreciate until it’s too late. “Communication, via the spoken word, is what keeps us in touch, connected, and is our main source of joy,” says Fisher. By making some small changes, like using ear protection and turning down the volume, we can make a big difference in how we hear well into the future.   

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