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How’s your hearing?

3 ways to make hearing easier

Try these tricks to help you follow what people are saying:

  1. Reduce background noise. Turn off the stereo. Run the dishwasher only when you’re asleep. Shut the window if street noise is making it difficult for you to hear someone.
  2. Watch the person to whom you’re speaking. Facial expressions and gestures will help you understand what he or she is saying.
  3. Speak up. If you can’t make out what someone is saying, ask him or her to face you directly, talk more slowly and come closer or talk more loudly.

Spare your ears

Almost a third of people over age 65 have a noticeable hearing loss. Although some inner-ear damage occurs naturally with aging, some is caused by loud noises we’re exposed to on the job or as a result of hobbies.

There are some precautions you can take. If you listen to music with earphones, keep the volume moderate. Wear earplugs or earmuffs if you work with or near jet engines or other loud machinery. Wear them, too, if you participate in noisy recreational activities, such as trapshooting or driving a snowmobile.

You’ve relied on your ears all your life without really thinking about it. But recently, you find it more difficult to understand what people are saying, especially women and children. You also have a hard time following group conversations, and there’s an annoying ring in your ears. What’s going on? Probably, you’re noticing the signs of age-related hearing loss.

As we age, wear and tear takes its toll on the cochlea (the snail-shaped cavity in the inner ear). There, thousands of tiny hairs convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, which are sent to the brain for interpretation. When those hairs or the nerves attached to them are damaged, the messages aren’t sent properly. The result: a type of hearing loss described as sensorineural.

This type of hearing loss happens so gradually that many people pay no attention to it. That’s unfortunate because, in some cases, the damage can be halted. For example, if you take the subway frequently or if driving a snowmobile is your favorite pastime, you can start to wear earplugs.

There’s no medical or surgical treatment for age-related hearing loss, but a hearing aid can help you keep up with the conversation around you. If you’ve noticed hearing loss or tinnitus (noise in the ear), see your healthcare provider. He or she can determine what type of loss you have (some types are treatable) and refer you to an ear or hearing specialist, if necessary.

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