Aside from protecting your ears from blasting stereos and jackhammers, there’s not much you can do to control what happens to your hearing, right? Wrong!
It’s true that genetic and environmental factors (such as loud noises) are usually what cause hearing loss. But most people have far more ability to prevent hearing loss—or even improve their hearing—than they realize.
Here’s why: Most problems with hearing begin when the hair cells located in the cochlea, or inner ear, don’t work well or stop functioning and die. Improving blood supply to the inner ear and tamping down inflammation within the body are among the strategies that may help keep your hearing sharp.
At first glance, you wouldn’t think that the steps below would have anything to do with your hearing. But they have a lot to do with it.
Here’s my advice for improving your hearing or keeping it intact…
CHECK YOUR MEDS
If you’re having trouble hearing, see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) or audiologist for an evaluation—and ask your doctor about the medications you take. Among the many medications that are “ototoxic”—that is, they can lead to hearing loss…
such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and amitriptyline (Elavil).
Antibiotics, such as erythromycin, gentamicin and tetracycline.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin).
If medication is causing your hearing loss, stopping the drug or switching to a new one, under your doctor’s supervision, may improve your hearing.
For a list of drugs that can cause hearing loss: Go to the American Tinnitus Association’s website, ATA.org, and click on “Ototoxic Drug Information.”
GET THE RIGHT NUTRIENTS
Certain nutrients are known to promote blood flow and help fight inflammation throughout the body—including in the ears.
To ensure that you have adequate levels of such nutrients, consider taking targeted supplements to protect your hearing. Among those that are beneficial are alpha lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, L-glutathione and CoQ10. Taking these supplements may help slow hearing loss and protect against damage from loud noises.
What to do: To determine which supplements (including doses) are best for you, consult an integrative physician. To find one near you, contact the American Holistic Medical Association at Holistic-Medicine.org or BodyLanguage-Vitamins.com
LOOK AT YOUR LIFESTYLE
Other ways to increase your odds of keeping your hearing sharp as long as possible…
- Chill out.
If you’re late for a meeting and stuck in traffic, your stress levels will probably climb. But what’s that got to do with your hearing? Quite a lot, actually.
Research has now shown that brain chemicals called dynorphins respond to stress by triggering inflammation in the brain—and in the inner ear. Inflammation not only exacerbates hearing loss but also hearing-related problems such as tinnitus.
What to do: Setting aside time each day for anything that alleviates tension—be it daily meditation, yoga or listening to restful music—may reduce your stress levels…and improve your hearing or help prevent hearing loss.
Surprising new research: Chewing gum may curb hearing loss in some cases—perhaps by distracting the brain from stress that may be interfering with the brain’s processing of sound.
- Keep off the pounds.
Evidence is continuing to mount that the more a person is overweight, the greater his/her risk for hearing loss. What’s the link? Factors closely related to obesity, such as high blood pressure, are believed to restrict blood flow to the inner ear.
What to do: Both men and women should aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9.
- Get enough exercise.
In recent research, women who walked at least two hours a week had a 15% lower risk for hearing loss, compared with those who walked less than one hour a week. The hearing protection conferred by exercise is also believed to apply to men.
What to do: To protect your hearing—and perhaps even improve it—spend at least two hours a week doing exercise, such as brisk walking.
- Avoid cigarette smoke.
Smoking is bad for the lungs, the heart and many other parts of the body. But the ears? Absolutely! In a study of adults ages 48 to 92, smokers were more likely than nonsmokers to have hearing impairment. And though it’s not well-known, even nonsmokers who live with smokers (this includes cigar and pipe smokers, too) are more likely to have hearing loss, suggesting that secondhand smoke can cause damage that impairs hearing.
What to do: Kick the tobacco habit—and encourage family members to do the same.
Get Enough Zs
Sleep apnea, a disorder marked by chronic breathing pauses during sleep, has been recently linked to a 90% increased risk for low-frequency hearing loss (difficulty hearing conversation on the phone is a hallmark) and a 31% increased risk for high-frequency hearing loss (this often makes it hard to understand higher-pitched sounds, such as a woman’s voice).
The results are preliminary, but some researchers believe that sleep apnea may trigger hearing loss due to poor blood flow to the cochlea, or inner ear.
What to do: If you snore (a common symptom of sleep apnea), see a doctor to determine whether you have sleep apnea and ask whether you should also have your hearing tested. If you have sleep apnea, it’s possible that treating it will improve your hearing.