* Guest post by John O’Connor
Healthy Choices for Healthy Ears
Hearing loss affects people of all ages, with over half, age 60 or older experiencing at least some deficit in hearing. While some forms of hearing loss can’t be prevented or reversed, many can. With a few simple changes in lifestyle and diet, sensorineural hearing loss – caused by damage to the complex mechanisms that bring sound to the brain – can be prevented or even reversed.
Hearing loss can have conductive or sensorineural causes. In conductive hearing loss, the hearing mechanism is physically blocked, causing problems with conductivity – the process that brings sounds to the brain. Some causes of conductive hearing damage include wax buildup, damage to the eardrum, or repeated infections in the middle ear. Even arthritis in the delicate inner bones of the ear can cause conductive hearing loss.
In many cases conductive hearing loss can be reversed. Infections can be treated, inflammation reduced, or earwax cleared from the ear canal. But sensorineural hearing loss is often associated with conditions affecting the body as a whole, so changes in diet, lifestyle and even the environment can improve the ear’s ability to transmit sound to the brain.
The ear’s sensorineural apparatus includes the blood vessels, hair cells, membranes, auditory nerve and other mechanisms that receive sound and transmit it to the brain for processing. Because these highly sensitive parts of the ear are vulnerable to any stresses placed on the body as a whole, healthy lifestyle choices that benefit the whole body also help keep the sensorineural networks of the ear working well. Among the hearing-healthy choices you can make:
One way smoking damages the whole body is by constricting blood vessels. The ears also rely on the body’s blood supply, so smokers’ ears are more likely to function poorly than those of non-smokers. Smoking also contributes to other whole-body diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease, which can also play a role in hearing problems.
Know Your Medications
A surprisingly wide range of medications can affect the hearing. Nonprescription drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, antibiotics, anesthetics, heart medications and a variety of other medicines can cause hearing loss or tinnitus, a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears. In most cases medication induced hearing loss is temporary and stops once the medication is discontinued. However, in some cases the damage may be permanent.
Limit Salt and Other Forms of Sodium
A diet high in sodium can also contribute to hearing loss. Salt causes the body to retain fluids, which can lead to swelling and puffiness. Sodium can also play a role in the development of hypertension. For both these reasons, a diet high in sodium can damage the ears by causing fluid retention in the ears.
What affects the body as a whole also affects the ears. If hearing loss has reached a severe level, the use of a hearing aid may be able to help better hearing. Being conscious of your health and making smart choices can help ensure healthy hearing.