How to Protect Your Ears

Beth Levine
Photograph: Photo by Kritsada Panichgul

Some hearing loss is inevitable, because as we grow older, cochlear hair cells inside the ears become damaged. Various illnesses, such as mumps and meningitis, as well as autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, can also cause hearing trouble. And then there were all those rock concerts. But you can take steps to prevent further impairment.

Stop smoking A recent Belgian study found that cigarettes can harm high-frequency hearing because they reduce blood flow to the inner ear.

Stop chugging, start sipping This same study found that moderate drinking (at least one drink a week) has a protective effect on hearing, while chronic alcohol abuse does the opposite.

Buy quieter products The dishwasher is running when the phone rings at the same time the neighbor starts up with his leaf blower. The combination is murder on your ears. Noise Free America’s Web site has a list of companies that manufacture quieter machines.

Turn down your iPod, MP3 player and so on A recent survey found that half of respondents use their MP3 players at 75 to 100 percent of their maximum volume. An MP3 player at full volume equals 115 decibels, which is louder than a power saw (110 decibels). Keep your players at 50 percent of their possible volume. Or buy earbuds that can limit the sound to a safe level.

Use acoustic noise-canceling headphones to reduce ambient noise, especially when you’re on an airplane.

Ask your doctor about the potential hearing risks of drugs you take Medications that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss include high doses of aspirin and anti-inflammatories (the effects are usually reversible once the medicine is discontinued), chemotherapy drugs and quinine. If after starting a medication you begin to experience vertigo, ringing or pressure in the ears, or sudden hearing loss, these are signs you should call your physician right away.

Take your vitamins Animal studies at the University of Florida found that high amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium protected hearing. With human studies still under way, the researchers recommend that everyone make sure they are getting at least the RDA levels of these micronutrients.

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