When you can’t hear as well as you used to, it’s not just frustrating — it’s alienating, too. At the dinner table, surrounded by friends (and noise), you somehow feel out of it, separate.
Often hearing loss is so gradual you don’t realize it’s happening. This can contribute to “feelings of loneliness and social isolation,” says Maria Pomponio, a clinical audiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
While it’s true that aging can cause hearing loss — it affects about one-third of Americans between ages 65 and 74 and nearly half of those older than 75, according to the National Institutes of Health — it’s important to protect what you’ve got and to preserve it for as long as you can. And fortunately, some hearing loss is preventable. “There is definitely reason for hope,” Pomponio says.
Here are six behaviors that can hurt your hearing.
1. Delaying a doctor’s visit
Notice a change in your hearing? Don’t put off a trip to the doctor’s office.
If you don’t seek treatment for your hearing loss — and many older adults underestimate how bad their hearing truly is, research shows — you’re at a greater risk for falls, hospital visits, anxiety and depression, as well as for higher levels of inactivity and higher health care costs.
Plus, protecting your hearing — and getting treatment — is one of the biggest changes you can make to lower your risk for developing dementia, the Lancet Commission’s 2020 report found.
“Never ignore a change in hearing,” says Lindsay S. Creed, an audiologist and associate director of audiology practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. That includes hearing better in one ear than the other or developing tinnitus (a ringing, hissing or buzzing in one or both ears). “It should not be brushed off as normal and left untreated,” Creed says.
And since hearing loss can be inherited, you should get tested regularly and keep an eye (er, ear) on it. You might even consider genetic testing to tell whether family might be a factor.
If your hearing loss comes on suddenly, make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. Even a two-week delay could decrease the likelihood that medications could help improve the problem, according to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine.