Is your hearing not quite what it used to be? If you’re over 50, it’s highly likely you’re your hearing has become less acute. But unlike problems with eyesight, many people don’t realise that their hearing is affected until someone else points it out to them. By that stage, they may have become socially isolated. But a few simple steps will help protect your ears – and put the fun back in your life.
Age related hearing loss – what happens?
As you get older, the delicate hair cells in your inner ear, which pick up high frequency sounds, can get damaged. This sort of hearing loss can run in families, and is more common in men. Being exposed to loud noise is also a factor. This hearing loss can start in your 40s, but by your 60s, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that you’ll be affected, and over 75 the chance is 1 in 2.
What are the symptoms?
Age related hearing loss happens gradually – often over years – and isn’t associated with other problems like pain or ringing in the ears.
The earliest problems tend to be with high frequency sounds, like speech (especially female voices). You may find it hard to hear a conversation when you’re in a noisy environment. As time goes on, you may need to turn the TV sound up, or have problems hearing on the phone.
How can I protect my ears?
Avoiding loud noise can help protect your hearing. We’re not just talking about noisy factories – wear ear plugs when you use the lawnmower or indulge in DIY at home.
What can help?
These days, hearing aids are discreet and very effective. Your GP can refer you to an NHS hearing aid clinic. However, the waiting list for some of the most advanced digital hearing aids can be long, and they don’t suit or work for everyone.
It may be worth taking up a new hobby – lip reading classes! That way, even if your hearing gets worse (and hearing speech can be a particular issue with age related hearing loss) you won’t feel left out.
Turning off the TV or radio during conversations will help.
At social gatherings, choose an area away from the main mass of people.
There’s also a whole host of home adaptations for people with hearing problems. They include text phones and lights to alert you when a fire alarm or doorbell rings
For more details, contact the Royal National Institute for the Deaf on 0808 808 0123 or www.rnid.org.uk
Ear wax – it’s a sticky subject
Our ear canals naturally produce wax – amazingly, it’s usually a very effective way of keeping your ears clean! Usually, it picks up debri that get deposited in your ear canal, and gradually works its way to the entrance of your ear canal, where it escapes. If wax builds up, though, it can block sound waves passing to your eardrum, making your ears feel blocked and affecting your hearing.
Using cotton buds to ’clean’ your ears is never a good idea. At best, this process packs the wax hard against the ear drum. At worst, it can damage the delicate lining of your ear canal, causing pain and infection, or even perforate your eardrum. Small wonder doctors tell their patients never to put anything in their ears that is smaller than their elbows!
Ear drops, or even slightly warm olive oil, can help rid of excess wax, by softening it and allowing it to escape by itself. Use drops 3 or 4 times a day for at least 5 days. If that doesn’t help, make an appointment with your practice nurse to get your ears syringed – but do soften the wax with drops first.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.