Hear, Hear! What's That You Said

While some loss of hearing can be attributed to aging, hearing loss is not just a symptom of old age. Noise is an even greater enemy to hearing. Exposure to loud noise at work or loud music in you can or through a personal stereo can cause substantial hearing loss over time. The inner ear contains tiny hair cells, which respond to audio signals. As we age, some of these cells die naturally, but loud noise at any time in our life injures these tiny hairs. Repeated exposure to noise may cause them to break, resulting in loss of hearing.

Despite all the warnings, a lot of people don't take care of their ears and ignore early signs of hearing loss. Someone who is beginning to lose his hearing will initially wonder why everyone around him is mumbling. Early in hearing loss, speech begins to sound muffled, particularly in a setting with a lot of background noise. Three quarters of the people who finally get their ears checked usually benefit from hearing aids. Today's hearing aids are much more advanced than in previous years. Due to recent improvements in microelectronics, these instruments are now smaller, lighter and superior in sound quality compared to older models. Unlike vision problems, many of which can be corrected with a prescription, hearing aids do no correct hearing loss, nor do they prevent further loss. However, a hearing problem that goes unchecked can lead to speech and behavior problems. Getting hearing aids sooner rather that later can help prevent those problems.

Have your hearing checked every few years, particularly if you are at risk for hearing loss. The main risks include a family history of hearing loss and frequent exposure to loud noise. Hearing test generally is covered by insurance.

While we can't prevent hearing loss that may eventually come with age, we can take steps to preserve our hearing while we're young. Avoid potentially damaging loud noise. Don't blast your stereo or car radio. If you work in a noisy place, where ear plugs of earmuffs. And if you wonder why everyone is mumbling, consider the possibility that it might be your ears, not their speech patterns that have changed.

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