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Surprising ways you can damage your hearing

Some hearing loss can be inevitable as we age, but there is a lot you can do to reduce damage to your ears. Many everyday activities can put you at risk for hearing loss, including:

  • Your work environment. If loud noise is part of your job, you could be at risk for hearing loss. Working in a factory, construction or farming are all common occupations where loud noise is inevitable.

  • Loud music. Have you ever heard ringing in your ears after a concert? That’s tinnitus, which can be a symptom of hearing loss or an ear injury. Listening to loud music with your headphones or earbuds can also cause hearing loss.

  • Household projects and yard work. A power lawnmower, hand drill and chainsaw have enough decibels (90, 100 and 110 decibels, respectively) to put you in the risk range for hearing loss when used frequently and for extended periods of time.  

  • Your mode of transportation. The noise from recreational vehicles like motorcycles or snowmobiles can cause hearing damage.

  • Explosive noises. Setting off fireworks or shooting firearms can cause long-term damage to your hearing.

  • Your medication. Certain chemotherapy drugs and the antibiotic gentamicin can cause inner ear damage. High doses of aspirin, pain relievers, loop diuretics or antimalarial drugs can also affect your hearing temporarily.

  • Certain illnesses. If you have a high fever from an illness like meningitis, you may be at risk for cochlear damage.

  • City traffic. Heavy traffic noise can range from 80 to 90 decibels, which is in the risk range for hearing damage.

“One of the most common signs of hearing loss is having to listen to the TV at a higher volume,” says Lauren Powell, M.D., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. “You may also have hearing loss if you are in a group of people and notice you are the only person having a hard time hearing and following the conversation. Oftentimes, people lose their higher frequency hearing first, so they will have a harder time hearing those soft, high-pitched sounds before the low-pitched sounds.”

Why you have trouble hearing

In addition to exposure to loud noises, hearing loss can be caused by:

  • Aging

  • Ear infection

  • Earwax buildup

  • Family history of hearing loss

  • Growths or tumors inside the ear

  • Ruptured eardrum

In some cases, restoring your hearing is an easy fix.

“I’ve seen patients who have difficulty hearing and then when I look in their ears, they have impacted earwax and that’s the reason that they cannot hear,” says Dr. Powell.

What to do to protect your ears

“As much as we enjoy music, it's important to make sure we're listening to it at a healthy volume,” she advises. “When going to live events, try to sit in the middle of the venue as opposed to the sides where there are loud speakers.”

You can also protect your hearing by:

  • Talking to your supervisor about wearing earmuffs that are specially made to protect against hearing loss.

  • Getting a regular hearing test if you work in a loud environment. If you have hearing loss, you can take steps to prevent additional loss.

  • Wearing hearing protectors during loud recreational activities, such as motorcycling, hunting or attending concerts.

  • Lowering the volume when listening to music or other entertainment on headphones or earbuds. If someone else can hear what you’re listening to, it’s too loud.

What to do if you have trouble hearing

“If you or your family is concerned about hearing loss, the first step is to discuss this concern with your primary care doctor – the earlier, the better,” says Dr. Powell. “After an examination, we can determine how to address hearing loss.”

Check out more health and wellness tips from Living Better experts.

Dr. Powell practices at Piedmont Physicians Buckhead, located at 35 Collier Road Northwest, Suite 500, Atlanta, GA 30309. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Powell online

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