Tips to help pre­vent, treat hear­ing loss

May is Bet­ter Hear­ing & Speech Month, a re­minder to take care to pre­vent hear­ing loss

Albuquerque Journal - - OP-ED - BY DR. THOMAS BIUSO SE­NIOR MED­I­CAL DI­REC­TOR, UNITEDHEALTHCARE OF NEW MEX­ICO

Hear­ing loss is a sig­nif­i­cant health is­sue in New Mex­ico and across the coun­try, af­fect­ing more than 48 mil­lion peo­ple na­tion­wide. It could be­come even more wide­spread in the com­ing years: more than 1.1 bil­lion young adults world­wide are at risk of de­vel­op­ing hear­ing loss, ac­cord­ing to a study by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Spurring the in­creased risk is more fre­quent ex­po­sure to loud sounds that can cause noise-in­duced hear­ing loss, in­clud­ing the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of ear­bud head­phones. Hear­ing loss is es­pe­cially com­mon among older Amer­i­cans, but younger peo­ple can also be af­fected.

About 20 per­cent of peo­ple over age 12 ex­pe­ri­ence some level of hear­ing loss. May is Bet­ter Hear­ing & Speech Month, a re­minder for peo­ple to check their hear­ing health — and that of their loved ones — to help pre­vent the con­di­tion or, if nec­es­sary, ob­tain treat­ment.

Re­search shows hear­ing loss is as­so­ci­ated with so­cial iso­la­tion, de­men­tia, de­pres­sion and in­creased risk of falls, re­in­forc­ing the fact that hear­ing health is cru­cial to over­all health.

To help en­cour­age bet­ter hear­ing health, con­sider these tips:

Limit ex­po­sure to loud noises Peo­ple should limit their ex­po­sure to loud sounds, such as mu­sic, lawn mow­ers or mo­tor­cy­cles, to no more than 20 min­utes at a time. Most Amer­i­cans, 82 per­cent, know that ex­po­sure to loud sounds can cause hear­ing loss, but just 41 per­cent cor­rectly rec­og­nized that both one-time ex­po­sure to a loud sound and cu­mu­la­tive ex­po­sure to mod­er­ately loud sounds can harm hear­ing health, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent UnitedHealthcare sur­vey.

Opt for noise-can­celling head­phones Over-the-ear head­phones, es­pe­cially mod­els with noise-can­celling prop­er­ties, are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a bet­ter op­tion than ear­buds. When us­ing ear­buds, fol­low the “60/60 rule,” which means lis­ten­ing for no more than 60 min­utes at a time and at no more than 60 per­cent of the player’s max­i­mum vol­ume. If some­one else can hear your mu­sic while you’re us­ing ear­buds, it’s an in­di­ca­tion of ex­ces­sive vol­ume.

Talk to a health pro­fes­sional and sched­ule a hear­ing test

Com­mon signs of hear­ing loss in­clude turn­ing up the vol­ume on the TV or ra­dio to lev­els that oth­ers find too loud, hav­ing trou­ble hear­ing peo­ple on the phone, and dif­fi­culty fol­low­ing con­ver­sa­tions in noisy en­vi­ron­ments.

Some pri­mary care physi­cians are start­ing to of­fer hear­ing test­ing, mak­ing it more con­ve­nient to fol­low rec­om­mended guide­lines, which in­cludes be­ing screened at least ev­ery decade through age 50 and then at three-year in­ter­vals there­after.

Ex­plore ways to save on hear­ing aids Hear­ing aids can be ex­pen­sive, but more af­ford­able op­tions are avail­able. Di­rect-to­con­sumer hear­ing aids can en­able peo­ple to save 60 per­cent or more com­pared to de­vices sold through tra­di­tional chan­nels. And a grow­ing num­ber of health plans are of­fer­ing cov­er­age for hear­ing aids, in­clud­ing through some Medi­care Ad­van­tage and em­ploy­er­spon­sored ben­e­fit plans.

Use ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies Hear­ing aids are more help­ful when peo­ple use ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies, such as watch­ing lip move­ments and fa­cial ex­pres­sions, and se­lect­ing set­tings that are “hear­ing friendly.” For ex­am­ple, peo­ple with hear­ing loss should opt for restau­rants that are rel­a­tively quiet and go at times that are less busy. An­other strat­egy is to se­lect a ta­ble along a wall or in a corner, which will re­duce back­ground noise.

With hear­ing loss on the rise, now is the time for pre­ven­tion and treat­ment. By fol­low­ing the above tips, peo­ple can help main­tain their hear­ing health and help those with hear­ing loss live fuller, health­ier lives.

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