Listen up: if you think hearing loss is just an age-related problem, think again. Hearing loss can occur suddenly or progressively at any point in life. A variety of factors can cause people of all ages to develop hearing loss in one or both ears.
While loud noise and music are often the most commonly recognized causes, there are other influences that can have you asking, “Can you repeat that?” Here are five lesser-known offenders:
As if you needed another reason to kick the habit, now researchers are warning that smoking can affect your hearing. Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict and shrink, including the blood vessels that bring blood and oxygen to the inner ear. Without adequate blood flow, the cochlea can quite literally “suffocate,” resulting in hearing loss.
What soothes your aches and pains may be damaging your ears. A study in theAmerican Journal of Epidemiology showed that taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen two or more days per week resulted in an increased risk of hearing loss. Researchers suspect that the drugs reduce blood flow to the cochlea (an essential hearing mechanism), thereby impairing its function. Other drugs that have been linked to hearing loss include antibiotics, oxycodone and certain types of chemotherapy.
Stress and Anxiety
There’s no doubt that hearing loss can make a person feel stressed and anxious, but doctors say that stress and anxiety may be risk factors for developing hearing disorders in the first place. Studies have shown a correlation between stress levels and hearing ability. Because researchers have established a connection between stress and illness, it’s thought that stressed individuals may have a higher incidence of illness and infection, which in turn may lead to hearing impairment.
Sniffing and sneezing aren’t the only effects of seasonal allergies. Experts say that people with allergies are also susceptible to hearing loss. They believe that high pollen levels can cause an allergic reaction in the inner ear, which causes swelling and an increase in fluid and wax accumulation. Luckily, many people find that as their allergies subside, so do their hearing problems.
The jury is still out on this one, but some specialists say cell phone use may cause hearing impairment. Practitioners are seeing more young people in their twenties for conditions such as tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and hearing loss, and studies suggest that the electromagnetic radiation given off by cell phones may damage the cochlea and auditory cortex. They found that hearing problems sometimes develop in the ear that is favored most frequently when using a cell phone. Using a land-line, Bluetooth earpiece or a headset is thought to be a safer option.
New Technology for Better Hearing
If you have difficulty hearing, all is not lost. Educating yourself about how to prevent and treat hearing loss is the best first step, and there are many new technologies available that can improve your hearing.