Prevention is the key to keep hearing

Q. Can you share some ways that I can improve my hearing?

A. Hearing loss is often the result of inner ear or nerve damage.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 37 million American adults age 18 and over have trouble hearing.

Prevention is the key to keeping your ears safe. Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, and it is completely preventable.

Ear buds and headphones, when used with high volumes, damage the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Once these hair cells are destroyed, they cannot be repaired or replaced.

Several other factors contributing to hearing loss include high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. These affect the circulation in the ears. Also, some medications are toxic to the ears, such as chemotherapy and certain types of antibiotics, which damage the nerve endings in the inner ear.

Age-related hearing loss gradually occurs as you grow older; it is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. This type of hearing loss occurs as the inner ear begins to deteriorate. Since the loss is gradual, you may not realize that you have lost some of your ability to hear.

But, if you think people mumble when they speak, have trouble hearing with noise in the background, have problems hearing while on the phone, strain to understand a conversation, ask people to repeat themselves, or need to put on your glasses to hear better, you may have a hearing problem.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a visit with an ear, nose and throat doctor or an audiologist for a hearing test. An audiologist is trained to specifically identify and measure the type and degree of hearing loss. After going through standard hearing tests, the doctor will determine the loss of hearing and recommend a treatment plan that is right for you.

Some types of hearing loss are caused by infections or wax buildup, which can be treated. Others are permanent but can be helped in other ways, with hearing aids, assistive listening devices, cochlear implants, and bone-anchored hearing systems.

Protect your ears with ear plugs or ear muffs. Eat a healthy diet and get regular check-ups. These are easy things you can do to help prevent hearing loss.

JoAnn Bevan, clinical specialist, audiology, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital