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7 Ways to Preserve Hearing When You Already Have Hearing Loss

Wearing hearing aids isn’t enough for protecting your hearing

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If you already are one of the millions who use hearing aids, you know their value: You can hear your family members more clearly or enjoy dinner conversation with friends without saying “What?” all the time.

According to the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, 30 percent of adults ages 65 to 74 and approximately 50 percent of adults older than 75 have diminished hearing. Hearing loss is on the rise in the United States and is expected to increase by 67 percent by 2060. But you still need to take steps to protect your hearing once you have hearing aids. Unfortunately, aging, plus the noisy world in which we live, can further impair the hearing of those who use hearing aids.

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Essentially, hearing aids are designed to compensate for a person’s hearing loss and to operate in difficult listening environments, says Ayasakanta Rout, a professor of audiology and director of the Hearing Aid Research Laboratory at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He says hearing aids “do not improve the existing damage already in the inner ear.”

To help prevent additional hearing loss and the problems associated with it, here are seven suggestions that can help.

1. Wear your hearing aids — even when you are at home alone.

“In most cases of age-related hearing loss, there is a slow progression of the degree of hearing difficulty despite the use of hearing aids,” Rout says. “It is critical that hearing aids are programmed exactly to the need of the individual user so that soft sounds are audible, medium sounds are comfortable, and loud sounds are tolerable. If a hearing aid is too loud, it could induce additional hearing loss. That is why the best practices in hearing aid fitting recommend verification of the actual sound levels produced by the hearing aid when worn in the user’s ear.”

Rout adds that hearing aids are designed to make sounds audible and comfortable without being too loud. The aids can selectively reduce background noise.

Individuals with hearing loss should consistently use properly fitted hearing aids, Rout says. That includes when you are at home.

“If you need them and don’t use them, your comprehension of speech will decline,” he says. 

“Think of all the things you would not enjoy if you decided not to wear your hearing aids,” says Richard S. Tyler, a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Iowa. He adds that hearing aids can improve the user’s quality of life: “Hearing is critical to communication, interacting, appreciating and learning from others. This certainly can impact socialization, friendship and cognition.”

2. Keep in touch with your hearing care providers.

Clare M. Villanueva, an audiologist affiliated with NYU Langone Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, recommends that hearing aid wearers see their hearing specialists at least once a year — sooner, if necessary — for a reevaluation of their hearing needs.


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“Hearing aids might need to be adjusted, especially if the hearing care provider does another hearing test and finds the results differ from earlier ones,” Villanueva says. The hearing care provider might also determine that the hearing aids need servicing or should be replaced.

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids became available in 2022 for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. They tend to be much less expensive than prescription hearing aids. If you are using over-the-counter hearing aids, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations about the possible need for adjustments. You also may need to contact an audiologist to have your hearing aids adjusted.

3. Use protective earmuffs.

Earmuffs like the ones worn by airport workers on the tarmac can be helpful for protecting your hearing during trying situations — concerts, busy airports, planes or trains or subways, and even when you or a neighbor mows the lawn or uses power tools. (Furry earmuffs will keep your ears warm, but you need the ones designed to cancel out harmful noise.)

Be aware that noise-canceling headphones are not earmuffs and should not be used in their place. Earmuffs, which cover the ear completely, can cost from less than $20 up to hundreds of dollars depending on their noise reduction rating (NRR), which represents the average decibels of sound it can reduce if worn properly. “The higher the NRR the better. Look for an NRR of around 30 dB. You always see airport workers and often construction workers wearing them to preserve their hearing,” Rout says. If you wear hearing aids, “remove them when using the earmuff,” he says.

The reasoning for this is twofold. First, if you wear an earmuff over the hearing aid, there is a greater likelihood of hearing audible feedback (squealing). Second, in loud environments, for example when lawn mowers are used and at construction sites, hearing aids are not effective in amplifying speech over the noise, Rout says.

4. Keep ear protection, such as earplugs, in your purse or pocket.

For those times when noise becomes uncomfortable or unbearable — such as on a subway, at a ballgame or in an amusement park — take out your hearing aids and use foam or silicon earplugs to reduce the noise. Inexpensive ones are available at drugstores. Another option is to use more expensive noise-reducing earplugs, which many musicians use. If you’ve been to a live concert recently and up close to the stage, you might notice that most of the musicians wear ear protection.

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5. Reduce the volume on your headphones.

Do you really need to have music blasting in your ears to enjoy it?

Villanueva recommends “reducing the volume on your iPods or other listening devices and using them for short amounts of time. Find the lowest, most comfortable sound setting on your device. Be aware a specific setting on one device is not necessarily the same on another device.”

6. Check your medications.

Check with your health care provider to see if any of the medications you are prescribed can cause hearing loss (if they are ototoxic). These can include some antibiotics as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), diuretics and chemotherapeutic agents. Ask of other drugs might be prescribed instead.

If you have a sudden change in your hearing, see an otolaryngologist, often known as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, as soon as possible, Villanueva says.

(See: 8 Medications That Can Harm Your Hearing)

7. Make sure you don’t have too much earwax.

One common cause of increased hearing loss is simple earwax, according to Sreekant Cherukuri, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, Indiana.

“As we age, earwax gets dryer and harder, so it can easily build up without our knowing it and cause some hearing loss,” he says. 

The use of hearing aids or earplugs also can push earwax down the ear canal.

Cherukuri recommends cleaning your ears regularly with an over-the-counter ear wash system — not Q-tips — and having your physician or health care provider “look in your ears and check for wax buildup at your next checkup.”

(See: The Ins and Outs of Safe Earwax Removal)

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