The sense of hearing involves a remarkable process. It keeps us in touch and fully engaged with others, yet we don’t tend to give it a lot of thought until it is lost. In fact, good hearing tends to be valued most by those who have lost it. Hearing impairment is more common than people realise – a recent report issued by the National Foundation for the Deaf puts the prevalence of hearing loss in New Zealand at 880,350 people, almost 19% of the total population.
So what should you be doing to look after your hearing?
Protect your ears from loud sounds. The risk of hearing damage through noise is now well known, but people are often uncertain about how loud is too loud. A good rule of thumb is that if you are struggling to hear someone who is standing only a metre from you, then noise levels could be damaging to hearing. Either turn it down or limit your exposure by wearing ear muffs/ear plugs.
See a professional for ear wax removal. Don’t use cotton buds as they tend to push any debris further in. There is wisdom in the old saying that you should not put anything bigger than your elbow in your ear. A trained Ear Nurse will examine your ears under a microscope, and any wax build up or foreign body can be safely removed through suction.
Consider having a hearing assessment. A full diagnostic test will check your ability to hear a range of tones and will be followed by a test of your speech recognition ability. Some measures of the integrity of the ear drum and middle ear will also be carried out. Should you have hearing loss then tests can indicate which part of the hearing system the loss might arise from.
Use it or lose it. If you have hearing loss, wear hearing aids. Not only will you hear better but the use of hearing instruments is now thought to reduce cognitive decline in those with hearing loss. Researchers believe that even those with mild hearing impairment should consider hearing aids. There is no truth in the belief that hearing aid use can make your hearing deteriorate more quickly.
Take time to relax, particularly in those muscles around your neck, shoulders and jaw area. Ensure your dental care is up to date. Sometimes discomfort around the ear is, in fact, jaw related.
Finally, seek medical advice promptly if you notice any sudden changes in your hearing, sudden onset tinnitus (ringing in the ear) or dizziness. It is also wise to check with your GP before flying if you have a heavy cold.