5 Habits That Hurt Your Ears

About 10 percent of the American population has a hard time hearing. And the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates one-third of adults ages 65 to 75 have significant hearing loss. Some have just a little trouble, like in noisy restaurants, while others are profoundly deaf. Some have tinnitus, (a persistent ringing in the ears) while others have difficulty discerning one sound from another. While heredity plays a part, exposure to loud noises and other habits are largely to blame for hearing loss: 

Are you guilty of any of these five ear-harming habits?

1) Blasting your music: Prolonged exposure to loud music, especially when it's blasted through earbuds directly in your ear, can damage tiny, fragile inner ear hair cells that transmit sound to the brain. 

  • Turn it down, limit the amount of time you listen, and take frequent breaks.
  • Never turn the volume up above 6 or 7.
  • If you're at a concert or other loud event, use earplugs.
  • Turn down your television and car radio, too.

2) Working in loud environments: Normal conversation registers about 60 decibels of noise. A firecracker, about 150. It only takes 15 minutes of exposure to noises that register 100 decibels to damage your hearing. 

  • If you work in a noisy environment, use noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs.
  • Whenever you're near loud equipment, including lawnmowers, blowers, and power tools, protect your hearing.

3) Not cleaning your ears properly: Built-up earwax can impact the ear canal and cause temporary reduction in hearing. But cleaning your ears requires extra special care. 

  • Never wedge a cotton swab or other object into the ear canal to remove wax.
  • Clean the outer ear surface with a washcloth or cotton ball.
  • Use an earwax removal kit or warm water, olive oil, and a bulb syringe to gently remove impacted wax.
  • See your doctor if you can't remove it yourself.

4) Taking high doses of certain medications: Some chemotherapeutic medications, antibiotics, aspirin, acetaminophen, and other pain medications, antidiuretics, and antimalarial medications can cause hearing loss in some people. 

  • Never take medications at higher doses than prescribed.
  • Tell your doctor immediately if you notice any change in your hearing.

5) Using old earplugs: If you use foam or latex earplugs for sleep, studying, work, or when you're exposed to loud noises, you're taking an important step to protect your hearing and boost your ability to rest and concentrate.  If you repeatedly use the same old pair, however, you're exposing your ears to bacteria that can cause infection. 

  • Use a fresh pair every time.
  • Don't shove earplugs in too far.
  • If your ears itch after earplug use, switch from latex to natural foam.
  • Buy a custom fit pair that forms to your ear canal like a glove and can be cleaned between uses.

While prevention is the best defense when it comes to hearing loss, don't hesitate to see your doctor with any ear-related concerns. Sometimes, minor problems can flare up and cause major damage. Other times, what seems like a big deal actually has an easy fix. Let your physician or an audiologist help determine the best next steps.