If you spent your youth at rock concerts, or were frequently exposed to any other loud noise, the chances are you’re paying for it now with a bit of age-related hearing loss. Do visitors casually mention that your TV is blaring? Do you keep asking people to repeat themselves? You’re not alone.
It’s estimated that 1 in 6 Australians have hearing impairment, with the prevalence increasing sharply after the age of fifty. And hearing loss among children and young adults is rising, with one-third of the damage being caused by noise. Unfortunately, once you lose your hearing, you can’t get it back without help from hearing aids, so here’s how to protect what you have left.
1. Go for a walk in the woods. Not only will the silence help you to focus better on sounds, but researchers find that physically fit people tend to have better hearing than those who aren’t in good shape. The reason? Aerobic exercise brings more oxygen into your system and improves blood flow to your ears.
2. Scoop up the guacamole at your next picnic. Guacamole is rich in magnesium. Studies find that low levels of magnesium might make you more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss.
3. Switch to decaf coffee and low-salt soups. Caffeine appears to hamper blood flow to the ears, while salt can lead to fluid retention, which can cause swelling and interfere with ear functioning. Plus, studies find that people with high blood pressure are more likely to have age-related hearing loss than those with normal blood pressure.
4. Quit smoking and stay away from other smokers. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the more exposure you receive to cigarette smoke, the more likely you are to experience age-related hearing loss.
5. Sip a beer or glass of wine, but don’t overdo it. Believe it or not, moderate drinking can protect against age-related hearing loss. But excessive amounts may actually contribute to hearing loss.
6. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss after every meal. For some reason, there’s a link between the number of teeth you’ve lost and your hearing, with researchers finding that the more of your own teeth you still have in your mouth in old age, the better your hearing.
7. Serve wholegrain bread and splitpea soup for lunch. Whole grains and legumes are great sources of B vitamins, which studies find protect the neurons and blood vessels connected to the cochlea, the tiny bone found in your inner ear. Also, one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with hearing problems had low blood levels of vitamin B12 and folate.
8. Drink a glass of skim milk every morning. The calcium and vitamin D in milk are critical for keeping the bones in your ear, especially the cochlea, healthy. One study of 70 healthy women found that those with hearing loss had much lower spinal density (a measure of bone strength) and calcium intake than women with normal hearing.
9. Bake kumara for dinner tonight. A wonderful source of vitamin A, it can also help your hearing because, according to animal studies, too little of this nutrient may increase the inner ear’s sensitivity to noise, thus potentially increasing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
10. Get five serves a day. When researchers explored the connection between a variety of lifestyle factors and sudden deafness in 109 patients, comparing deafness to normal hearing, they found that those who ate the most fresh vegetables had the lowest risk of sudden deafness.
11. Ask your doctor to clear the wax from your ears. It’s often all that’s needed to improve your hearing. Just don’t try it yourself; sticking pointed objects into your ear canal is a no-no. If you want to de-wax at home, try wax-softening ear drops, sold at chemists. If the wax doesn’t liquefy and find its way out, see your GP to request ear syringeing.
12. Go to bed and rest when you have a cold. That gives your body the strength to fight off the infection and reduces the risk that it will develop into something more serious, such as an ear infection, which could eventually affect your hearing.
13. Make earplugs a standard part of your wardrobe. Keep a pair in your bag, in your car, in the garage with the gardening tools and by the lawnmower. That way, if you find yourself unable to escape from loud noise, you’re always prepared to protect your hearing.
14. Get a friend to stand next to you while you’re plugged into your iPod (or MP3 player). If your friend can hear it through your earphones, it’s too loud.
15. Try a ginkgo biloba supplement. Some studies suggest that the herb might not only help with ringing in the ears (tinnitus), but may also benefit hearing loss by improving blood flow to the ears. The herb takes weeks to work, so be patient.