Learn how to protect your hearing when you're young

Age-related hearing loss happens to many of us as we get older. Causes include changes in the inner ear, middle ear, or along the nerve pathways to the brain. Some medical conditions and medicines can also play a role in hearing loss.

“Hearing loss is common,” says Steven Jones, MD, an otolaryngologist with UPMC Metro ENT Associates. “About 50 million Americans have clinically significant hearing loss, and by that I mean the type of hearing loss that can affect them in their day-to-day lives. We’ve also found that hearing loss is more likely with age and, if you reach age 75, you have a 2 in 3 chance of having some sort of significant hearing loss.” 

If you’re regularly exposed to loud sound, however, you can begin to experience hearing loss at a younger age. Fortunately, you can take simple steps to protect your hearing while you’re young.

Find a UPMC primary care physician by visiting the UPMC Primary Care website or by calling 1-855-676-UPMCPCP (8762-727).

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Causes of Hearing Loss

Exposure to excessive noise levels — using power tools without protection, attending loud concerts or sporting events, turning up the volume on your headphones or earbuds, or riding on or driving a motorcycle — can put you at risk for hearing damage. And occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related health issues in the United States.

“For physicians, there’s two main types of hearing loss,” says Dr. Jones. “The most common one is nerve hearing loss, which is the type that we see in the elderly. It’s a natural degeneration of the hearing nerve and there’s no cure for it. The only thing we can offer for patients is fitting them with hearing aids.” 

“The second type is what we call conductive hearing loss,” Dr. Jones adds. “The sound vibrations that enter the ear are not conducted to the nerve. So we think of things like blockage with earwax, fluid in the ears, a hole in the ear drum, and occasionally, some other issues. These are things that are often correctable with either surgery or medication.” 

RELATED: Signs Your Hearing Aids May Need Adjusted

Preventing Hearing Loss

Be Alert to Signs of Hearing Loss

There are ways to tell if you have been exposed to hazardous noise.

  • Do you notice ringing or buzzing in your ears?
  • Do you hear people talking but have a hard time understanding what they’re saying?
  • Do your ears feel “full” after you leave a noisy area?

What You Can Do to Protect Your Hearing

When you are exposed to excessive noise, wear hearing protection. Earplugs and noise-blocking headphones help reduce the amount of sound reaching your ears. And try to limit the amount of time you are exposed to noise.

You can help protect your hearing by taking a few simple steps in your day-to-day life:

  • Don’t crank up your music to a high volume.
  • Limit the amount of time that you use headphones or earbuds.
  • Talk to your doctor about earwax. Wax build-up can make hearing more difficult.
  • Do not use a cotton swab to clean inside your ears. “You can push the wax closer to the eardrum and cause damage,” says David Harinstein, MD, of HealthFirst Medical Associates-UPMC.
  • Quit smoking. Recent studies show smokers are 70 percent more likely to have some form of hearing loss.

RELATED: How to Properly Clean Your Ears

If you have concerns about your hearing, talk to your primary care doctor.

Find a UPMC primary care physician by visiting the UPMC Primary Care website or by calling 1-855-676-UPMCPCP (7652-727).

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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