When I diagnose patients with a loss of hearing, they usually want to know if there is any way they can stop the progression of the loss. Common sense (and a large body of research) tells us that hearing loss tends to get worse as we get older, but each case is unique. In many cases, hearing is stable for many years. In others, the hearing loss progresses relatively rapidly.
One of the most important things that all adults over the age of 50 need to do is to have an audiological evaluation that will establish their baseline hearing, and they need to keep that on file with their primary care physician and with their health records kept at home. Getting a comprehensive audiometric by a board certified audiologist ensures that you have been evaluated by a professional who has the most training for this purpose, and who ascribes to the highest ethical practice and continuing education requirements available. Why is it so important to have this baseline? Well, if your hearing changes, it will be much easier to gauge the rate of progression of the loss if you have clearly established a starting point and have annual re-evaluations to document any shift in thresholds. And remember, documenting that starting point could be very important — no one wants to borrow trouble, but don’t forget that 17% of all of those involved in motor vehicle accidents with air bag deployment have permanent sensorineural hearing loss as a result! That could be difficult to prove in a court of law if you haven’t had a recent hearing test.
Noise is a leading cause of hearing loss, and hearing loss from noise exposure is usually preventable. Both the level of the noise and the length of time you’re exposed to it determine if a noise will cause damage to your hearing. A good rule of thumb: If you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone standing three feet away, the noise around you could be damaging. Everyday sounds, such as music, power tools, or a lawn mower, have been shown to cause hearing damage.
Visit a local hearing center for advice regarding the best options for ear plugs or other noise protection to wear during these activities, and get your hearing checked on a a regular basis. Your hearing professional can compare your exams over time to determine if your hearing loss is worsening. If a significant change is noted, your hearing professional may refer to you to an ear doctor for further evaluation.