If you find yourself turning up the TV a little louder every year, you may be one of the 48 million Americans with hearing loss. But age alone isn’t necessarily the culprit. Here’s what the latest research says could be hurting your hearing.
- Smoking “The more you smoke, the higher the likelihood of poor hearing,” says Piers Dawes, MD, the lead researcher on a study published in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology that examined the link. Reduced circulation to the ear’s sensitive structures combined with smoking’s toxic effects in the bloodstream likely cause this damage.
- Sleep apnea Your snoring may be doing more than keeping your partner up at night: A 2014 study from the American Thoracic Society found that people with sleep apnea have a one-third increased risk of high-frequency hearing loss (or trouble hearing higher-pitched sounds like female voices), and a whopping 90 percent increased risk for low-frequency hearing loss, which makes it difficult to hear in noisy places or when talking among a group.
- Low iron Anemia does more than make you exhausted—the condition may be linked to hearing loss, according to a 2016 study in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. Study author Deepa Sekhar, MD, says a deficiency of oxygen in the blood caused by low iron levels can impair the inner ear. Make sure you’re getting your fill of leafy greens, and take a supplement if needed.
- Obesity and diabetes Both have been linked to hearing loss. What’s the connection? Spikes in blood sugar can damage the nerves and blood vessels in your ears.
- Your hair dryer The latest salon quality models are more powerful—and louder—than ever before. Hearing loss can occur after repeated or long exposure to sounds higher than 85 decibels, warns the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Wear earplugs while you use your dryer, or spring for an extra-quiet model such as the NuMe Stealth Dryer ($249, NuMeUSA.com).
- Painkillers Long-term use of ibuprofen and acetaminophen could be the cause of hearing loss in more than 16 percent of women, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Study author Gary Curhan, MD, suggests using the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time to limit risk.
- Coffee Sad news for caffeine fiends: Your morning cup may prevent your ears from recovering from short-term hearing loss after exposure to extremely loud sounds, like concerts, according to the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. Researchers believe that caffeine may slow down your ears’ natural healing process. But they’ve only studied this link in guinea pigs—so perhaps there’s still hope!
Relief for Ringing Ears
Help for tinnitus, or “ringing in the ears,” may be as simple as a computer game, according to a study in JAMA Otolaryngology. Because people with tinnitus sometimes struggle with memory, attention and brain speed, researchers hypothesized that games that strengthen these skills may also improve patients’ hearing. They divided 40 tinnitus patients into two groups, with one playing BrainHQ games (which test and improve skills like recollection and concentration) for one hour a day, five days a week, while the other did nothing. After eight weeks, half of those who played BrainHQ exercises saw improvement in their tinnitus, compared to just 15 percent of the control group. Visit brainhq.com for a free trial.