Hearing loss can have a major impact on daily life and mental health, so we need to protect our ears and not ignore the warning signs – Kim Jones looks at new ways to care for your lugholes
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One in five people live with hearing loss, but a third do not treat it. Those who struggle alone and don’t seek help are twice as likely to feel depressed and anxious, according to a study by hearing aid specialists Hidden Hearing.
Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and dementia, according to a report published in The Lancet.
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to keep your hearing sharp, prevent problems from developing, and make sure you spot problems early on.
“Practicing focused, active listening will highlight potential hearing loss,” says Farah Kiani, audiologist at Hidden Hearing.
“Try to turn on the television and the radio at the same time and only listen to one at a time.
“First the TV for two minutes, then focus on the radio for two minutes. Try facing in different directions, with one volume above the other. Note any difficulty in doing so and speak to a GP about your concerns.
Beware of everyday dangers
We all know that listening to loud headphones or going to concerts can damage our hearing, but even everyday sounds – if they’re over 85 decibels – can damage hearing with repeated exposure.
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Be careful with things like turning the car stereo on full blast for road noise, using a lawnmower, power tools, the coffee grinder, or even a high-speed hair dryer.
Wear noise-canceling earplugs if necessary.
“Increasingly, people are turning to meditation to improve their hearing health,” says Karen Shepherd of Boots Hearingcare (bootshearingcare.com).
“On the one hand, it helps because relaxing and breathing deeply increases blood flow and helps the hemoglobin in the red blood cells to carry oxygen more easily to the inner ear. There, it supports the hair cells that convert sound into electrical energy, which is transmitted to the auditory cortex for decoding.
“On another level, listening with hearing loss requires effort and focus – people have to rely on auditory memory to fill in the blanks – and it can often be a stressful and exasperating experience,” adds Karen.
“By learning to manage stress levels through relaxation, people can maintain control and clarity of thought. Less stress allows a person to relate all available sensory information.
“A proper balance of vitamins and minerals has been shown to improve hearing quality,” says Karen.
“Folic acid, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc contribute to better hearing and an overall healthier body. Consider taking a supplement in order to get their full effects, but always consult a doctor first, especially if you are taking other medications.
Listen like a musician
Many people realize that they have a hearing problem when they cannot follow conversations when they are in noisy environments.
Studies have shown that musicians are especially good at separating a voice in a crowd because they’ve trained their brains to listen to their own instruments while others are playing.
“Try to hone your listening skills like a musician by turning up a piece of music at a volume comfortable enough for you to carry on a conversation, then walk around the house and try to follow an instrument, or just the lyrics of the song,” advises Farah.
“This exercise can help you learn to focus on identifying an isolated sound element and focus better during conversations.
“If isolating a sound is proving really difficult for you, it could be a sign of hearing loss.”
Watch your weight
A major review and analysis of studies, published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, confirmed that there may be a link between being overweight and hearing loss.
Researchers believe that because the ear depends on a good blood supply to function well, obesity could impede this flow as it can cause narrowing of blood vessels and high blood pressure.
Reduced blood supply to the cochlea leads to hair cell damage and eventual hearing loss.
Striding out two hours a week could keep your hearing sharp.
A study of more than 68,000 women published online in the American Journal of Medicine found that those who were the most physically active had a 17% lower risk of hearing loss than those who were the least active.
The good news is that you don’t have to do strenuous exercise to give your hearing half a chance. The researchers found that women who walked two hours or more per week had a 15% lower chance of developing hearing loss than those who walked less than one hour per week.
A study from the University of Manchester found that smoking increases the risk of hearing loss by more than 15%. The more you smoke, the greater the risk.
Tobacco toxins can cause oxidative damage, and smoking reduces blood supply to the ears.
Book a trial
Farah recommends a hearing test, which is free on the high street, at the first sign of loss and for anyone over 55.
“An early warning sign is needing to turn up the TV volume or having trouble understanding what’s being said on a phone call,” she explains.
“A family member or friend is more likely to notice your issues, so be careful if someone points something out to you.”
Hidden Hearing offers a free five-minute online hearing test (hiddenhearing.co.uk), which provides a quick overview of hearing levels and can direct you to a longer test if needed.
Try doing the down dog
“A lot of people who are hard of hearing say that a yoga session can sometimes help them hear better,” says Karen.
“Relaxing and stretching in positions like this brings oxygen-rich blood to the head more quickly, which can help with hearing.”