The number of times you say “Pardon me” may be the only sign you have that your hearing has gradually lessened. It happens with age, but even so, it’s important to recognize there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and to maximize your hearing.
About 10 per cent of all Canadians have hearing loss, but as you would expect, the numbers do jump as age increases. At 45 years of age, only about 20 per cent are affected, but by age 65 it’s about 60 per cent of people. Men are more often affected than women, which may be related to noise exposure at work.
It is also thought these numbers should actually be higher because hearing loss is so gradual that it is not noticed, or because it is denied.
There are two components to hearing. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sounds are prevented from getting to the middle or inner ear, for example because of impacted earwax, a foreign body, water, or even an ear infection. Removal of the obstacle will solve this type of hearing loss.
By contrast, sensorineural hearing loss involves the inner ear and the nervous system. Unfortunately, this kind of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Your ear has three parts: the outer ear which is the part that you see, the middle ear where hearing is sensed, and the inner ear which is responsible for sending sound messages to the brain for interpretation. Incidently, the inner ear is all important in maintaining your balance, which often means that damage to the inner ear will affect both your balance and hearing.
Earaches can affect any part of your ear and reduce your hearing. Infections, a foreign body, trauma such as a blow to the ear, or even something like swimmer’s ear can be the cause, but once the earache clears your hearing returns to normal.
Earwax or cerumen can be a problem if it accumulates and plugs the ear canal. Earwax is a mixture of secretions from both sweat and earwax glands. If you are older, have narrow or misshapen ear canals, wear a hearing aid, or even have lots of hair in your ears, earwax can readily accumulate and become impacted. There are various earwax removal products available, but you need to read and follow the instructions carefully. And, if you are unsuccessful, don’t just try another product, have your ears checked first.
If you notice that your hearing has changed and you have begun taking a new medication, ask if hearing loss may be an adverse effect.
Some drugs can affect your hearing. Drugs with the potential to reduce hearing by affecting the nerves that sense sound include antibiotics like gentamicin, tetracycline, and erythromycin; the leg cramp remedy quinine; some cancer drugs; and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and acetylsalicylic acid. This effect typically occurs over time and, usually, stopping the drug halts the loss, although hearing may not return completely.
Acetylsalicylic acid in higher doses can also cause tinnitus or ringing in your ears. The ringing may not develop into hearing loss, but it certainly interferes with hearing. Again, stopping the drug will alleviate the effect, but even reducing the dose may do the trick.
Your ears are considered to be self cleaning and you shouldn’t need to do anything else other than wash your external ear, for example when you are shampooing your hair. Don’t try to “dig out” anything from your ear, earwax included! You may push whatever you are trying to remove further into your ear. Ideally, you want to put nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear, if that’s even possible!
Take care of your hearing by wearing ear protection when you are exposed to loud noises, such as machinery or rock music. And, if you wear a hearing aid, always remember to make sure it has fresh batteries and that it fits properly. Getting older is no reason why you shouldn’t have good hearing.