By Rita Colorito
AS YOU AGE, protecting your hearing might
be as important as protecting your heart or
bone health for overall well-being. Hearing
loss increases your risk of dementia, falls and
hospitalizations, as well as contributes to
social withdrawal and isolation. A new study
from Johns Hopkins found that in older
adults with hearing loss, the brain actually
shrinks faster as they age than in those without auditory deficits.
While some hearing loss is inevitable—a
natural part of aging or genetics—recent
studies highlight several common, avoidable
culprits that can rob you of sound.
“There are some dietary and lifestyle
modifications that we can make to help prevent hearing loss or delay its progression,”
says Dr. Sharon Curhan, of Brigham and
Women’s Hospital in Boston, who researches
preventable hearing loss.
Reduce pain medications
Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen regularly, two or more times per week, is associated
with a higher risk of hearing loss, Curhan’s
research found. The hearing loss was greater
in women younger than age 50 who used ibuprofen six or more days per week. Research
also showed that regularly taking very high
doses of aspirin can lead to hearing loss and
tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears.
Many prescription medications, including
some antibiotics, diuretics and chemotherapy
drugs, can also result in hearing loss, tinnitus or
balance disorders, according to the American
(ASHA). A 2010 University of Alabama at
Birmingham study confirmed the link between
hearing loss and the impotence drug Viagra.
Before taking any medication, ask your
doctor about how it may affect your hearing
and about alternatives.
Slim down and shape up
According to Curhan’s research involving
more than 68,000 women in the Nurses’
Health Study II, who were followed for 20
years, women with a higher body mass index
and larger waist circumference had a higher
risk of hearing loss, while women who had a
higher level of physical activity had a lower
risk of hearing loss. Women who walked two
hours per week or more had a 15 percent lower
risk of hearing loss than those who walked
less than one hour per week.
“Maintaining a healthy weight and staying
physically active, which are modifiable risk
factors, may help reduce the risk of hearing
loss,” says Curhan, a Costco member, explaining that the connection between activity,
weight and hearing—which is not gender specific—is likely due to the cochlea’s dependence
on an adequate blood supply, which can be
affected by weight and exercise.
Stop or avoid smoking
Smokers have a 15. 1 percent greater risk
of hearing loss than non-smokers, according
to a ne w study by the University of Manchester
in England. Passive smokers also had an
increased risk. Those who quit smoking had a
slightly reduced risk of going deaf.
Avoid loud sounds
Noise-induced hearing loss remains the
biggest auditory thief, affecting an estimated
15 percent of Americans age 20 to 69, according to the National Institute on Deafness and
Other Communication Disorders.
“If an environmental sound is loud
enough that you can’t easily carry on a conversation with somebody, it’s loud enough to
harm you,” says Dr. Steven Rauch, an otologist and director of the vestibular division
with Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston.
Sound-pressure level is measured in units
called decibels (dB). Prolonged exposure to
noise greater than 85 dB for an eight-hour
period can erode hearing health, permanently
damaging the hair cells within the ear that act
as sound receivers.
“With every increase of 5 decibels, you
have to cut your exposure time in half to
avoid damage,” says Rauch. “The louder the
noise, the less time it takes to do damage.”
Decibel levels above 120—the threshold
Why hearing loss matters
and new ways to prevent it
for your health
The Costco Connection
Members can get their hearing checked
and find hearing aids at Costco Hearing
Aid Centers. Elsewhere in the warehouse,
and on Costco.com, Costco carries earplugs and noise-canceling headphones.
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