11 Surprising Things That Could Ruin Your Hearing
You know to grab earplugs at a rock concert, but from diabetes to spin class, these other causes of hearing loss may surprise you.
Types 1 and 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol affect almost every cell in the body—including the ears. Vibrations from tiny hair cells in your ears send your brain messages about what you’re hearing, but those cells need proper blood flow. “All those hair cells are fed nutrients by tiny little capillaries,” says audiologist Craig A. Kasper, chief audiology officer of New York Hearing Doctors. “If there’s any problem with blood flow, you’re not going to get those hair cells to grow.” People who have diabetes, for instance, are twice as likely to experience hearing loss than the rest of the population is, he says.
A hairdryer near your head could be putting out 85 or more decibels of noise. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB is when people are at risk for hearing loss, says the National Institutes of Health. You’d probably have to dry your hair for eight hours straight before it did any damage, but that loud part of your beauty regime could add up over time, says Kit Frank, clinical audiologist at Advanced Audiology Institute in Las Vegas. “The more you use [blow-dryers] and the longer you use them, the more likely you are to have damage,” she says. “It might not do immediate damage, but over time it will.”
You know what it was like when you came home after a loud concert: The ringing in your ears was a sure sign the music was too loud. But even the tunes coming through your headphones could damage your ears. Earbuds are typically more damaging than over-the-ear headphones because they rest deeper in your ear canal, says Frank. And if you crank up the volume to drown out the noise around you, things get even riskier, says Kasper. “You typically have to compete with the environmental noise to hear the music,” he says. “That’s when it becomes dangerous.” Sticking with volume at or below 60 percent will keep the sound at a safe level, he says. If you can’t hear at that volume, buy sound-blocking headphones to cut out the outside noise.
Skipping your annual checkup
Most hearing loss comes from gradual damage to your inner ear, but blockages are totally treatable. During your annual visit, your doctor should check the inside of your ears for wax buildup. Skip that checkup and you might end up with clogged earwax muffling your hearing, says Frank. But you might also get stuffed-up ears after a specific event, says Kasper. “It could be someone has a history of sinus infections or allergies, or just took multiple plane rides and their ears are clogged,” he says. “It makes us feel like we’re underwater.” Sticking in a cotton swab could damage your ear, so learn the best way to clear out your ears, and visit your doctor to clear out deep blockages.
Hearing loss could be a side effect of your medication. Some diuretics for heart disease, chemotherapy, and antibiotics (especially gentamicin, neomycin, and others in the –mycin family) could damage your ears. Getting better is your first priority, but it’s worth talking to your doctor about whether the dose is high enough to do damage. “High doses of any antibiotic can be dangerous,” says Frank. “Usually myacins are used in high doses.” Find out more questions you should ask your doctor before taking antibiotics.
OTC pain relievers
Even pain relievers you get over the counter, like aspirin and ibuprofen, could do damage in high amounts. Any hearing loss or tinnitus from them is usually temporary, but the side effects are sometimes permanent. As long as you stick with baby aspirin or regular doses of a pain medication, though, you won’t risk ruining your hearing, says Kasper. Learn more things you didn't know about pain medications.
As if a high fever weren’t bad enough, that elevated temperature could also damage the nerves in your inner ear, either because of inflammation or lack of oxygen. “If you don’t get that oxygen to the nerves, they break down and they don’t work like they should,” says Frank. Plus, find out what really happens to your body when you have a fever.
This isn't a problem now, but when normal life resumes, exercise classes are often very, very loud. The music blasting at your group workout might power you through your sweat session, but it might be working your ears in a bad way. “If you walk out of spin classes and your ears are buzzing, that’s an indication that you may have done damage to your ears,” says Kasper. Download an app to your smartphone to measure the sound level around you throughout your day, he recommends. Consider using hearing protection if your fitness center is particularly noisy. In the meantime, while you're working out at home, don't blast the music too loud.
Noisy appliances like blenders and coffee grinders could do damage to your ears over time. The more often you get those noisy blades going, the more trauma your ears go through. Hard-core chefs should consider ear protection, though the occasional smoothie isn’t anything to worry about. “If you’re in the kitchen and cooking and using a blender all day, that’s a problem,” says Frank. “If you use it for ten seconds once a week, it probably won’t be a problem for you.”
The racket from lawnmowers, jackhammers, leaf blowers, drills, and other power tools isn’t just a headache—it’s also a risk for hearing damage. You'll need to protect your ears, but earplugs might not be the best choice. Putting fingers grimy from the tools so close to your ear canal could put you at risk for infection, says Kasper. Instead, pick up a pair of earmuffs from the hardware store. “They go right over the ear, and they’re easy to take on and off,” Kasper says.
Not a lot of people are taking trains and buses right now. But public transportation can be noisy, and sitting on a subway for half an hour to and from work could add up over time and hurt your ears, says Frank. Plus, the siren of an emergency vehicle passing you on the street could be loud enough to do some damage. “Covering your ears is a good thing—it’s not silly,” says Frank.
Next, find out what you can do to keep your mental skills sharp as you age.