Tips For Maximum Hearing Health

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - November 12, 2008
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Audiologist Judith Mason performs a tympanometry on Linda Huihui

What? Huh?

My husband thinks I’m deaf. I think he just needs to speak clearly. Or maybe it’s selective hearing.

Whatever the case, I’m always asking him to repeat himself, and he’s frustrated that I don’t hear him the first time.

So is it me or is it him?

A recent hearing test revealed that I’m normal except for a little drop at the lowest pitch in my right ear.

“What that means is that I had to turn it up only 5 decibels higher in order for you to respond,” explains Judith Mason, an audiologist at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii. “You would never notice this in your every day life. You might have always had this and just never known about it.”

According to Mason, we are born with all the hearing we are ever going to have, so it’s very important to protect it. There’s nothing we can do to improve it, and if it gets damaged, that’s it. Nothing can be done to repair it.

In Hawaii, every baby should be screened at birth. Then, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, they should generally be tested at ages 1, 3 and 5.

After that, children and adults should only get tested if they notice a change in their hearing or have ringing in one ear that does not go away.

“People also have periodic ringing that will just come and go within a matter of say 30 seconds and if it goes away then there’s nothing to worry about,” says Mason. “But if it stays, then you should see an audiologist.”

Mason adds that our hearing generally starts to decrease at age 40. It goes very slowly and usually with the higher pitches first.

“The best thing you can do for your hearing is not get diabetes because your hearing and your kidneys are very closely related,” advises Mason. “Also, people who work in hazardous occupations, such as at the airport and construction, should wear ear plugs and ear muffs over the ear plugs.”

Another way to protect your ears is to stay away from guns because of the traumatic explosive sounds it produces, and it only takes one shot to damage your hearing.

Also, people with sensitive ears should be extra careful around firecrackers, especially the long-string of red firecrackers often used on New Year’s Eve.

“What happens when you damage your hearing is your hair cells, if you can picture them like trees, they fall over and break,” explains Mason. “Those hair cells are in this little snail shell called the cochlea which is behind your ear and that’s your actual hearing organ. So when noise damages your hearing, those hairs are broken and they’re damaged forever.”

As for loud music at events such as a rock concert, people may sometimes experience a temporary threshold shift resulting in numbness or ringing in their ears but generally it will go away overnight.

“It would have to be pretty loud for a fairly long time,” adds Mason. “And people who are at risk are the musicians. (The late) Jerry Garcia (lead guitarist and vocal-ist of The Grateful Dead) was very famous for having this awful hearing loss and he was a great advocate for protection of your hearing.”

When cleaning your ears, be careful to not stick any object, including Q-tips, into the ear canal.

“People who have the drier kind of ear wax, when they put the Q-tip in, it actually pushes it closer to the ear drum and causes it to be more impacted,” explains Mason. “Cleaning the outer ear is OK. Ear wax is like tears for your ears. It moves out on its own and carries with it debris and other undesirable things. And some people have more of it than others. It’s just how you are, and it changes.”

So, it looks like I’m not deaf after all. Although, Mason did recommend that I get rechecked in six months.

“Acommon situation for someone to notice a change in their hearing is they’re on the phone and they switch ears and there’s a difference between what they hear in one ear and in the other,” says Mason. “Also, older people will think other people are mumbling or not speaking as clearly. They put the blame on the other person when it’s their own hearing that is the problem.”

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