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Preventive Measures May Guard Against Hearing Loss
For many Americans, hearing loss is part of growing older. The condition affects approximately a third of U.S. adults ages 65 to 75, and nearly half of those over the age of 75.
Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, usually occurs gradually and affects both ears equally. In most cases, the condition is the result of damage to fragile sensory structures in the inner ear called hair cells.
When they're working properly, the hair cells of the inner ear convert sound waves from the eardrum to nerve impulses that are transmitted to the brain. Over the course of a lifetime, repeated exposure to loud noises can destroy the delicate hair cells, resulting in progressive loss of hearing.
In addition to noise-induced damage, genetics may play a role in age-related hearing loss. If your parents or older siblings suffered from presbycusis, you're more likely to develop it than someone with no family history of the condition.
Adults with diabetes have double the risk of developing impaired hearing compared to individuals without diabetes. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are additional risk factors for hearing loss.
The effects of some medications can contribute to hearing impairment. Drugs linked to hearing loss include the antibiotic gentamicin, the chemotherapy agent cisplatin and some diuretic drugs, including Lasix.
In a study published in the March 2010 issue of The American Journal of Medicine, researchers determined that regular use of aspirin, acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, dramatically increases the risk of adult hearing loss. The scientists analyzed data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which tracked more than 26,000 men for 18 years.
Although aspirin's negative impact on hearing is well documented, the potentially damaging effects of NSAIDs and acetaminophen were more surprising. The researchers found that regular users of acetaminophen and NSAIDs who were 60 and older were 16 percent more likely to develop hearing loss than those who were not regular users.
Younger men appeared to be more seriously affected by the medications. Those younger than 50 who regularly took acetaminophen were found to be 99 percent more likely to experience hearing loss than non-regular users of the drug.
Among NSAID users, men younger than 50 who took the drugs regularly were 61 percent more likely to suffer hearing loss than those who were not regular NSAID users.
There's no cure for age-related hearing loss, but a few preventive strategies may reduce the risk of acquiring the condition. In addition to limiting your use of pain-relieving medications, it's wise to wear hearing protection when working or playing around noisy vehicles, machinery, equipment or tools.
If you're a music fan, be sure to enjoy your favorite selections at a reasonable volume. Whether it comes from speakers, headphones or the ear buds of your iPod, repeated exposure to loud music can lead to hearing loss.
Nutritional supplements may play a role in preventing age-related hearing loss. The results of a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil may reduce the risk of developing the condition.
Researchers at the University of Sydney found that adults over the age of 50 who consumed at least two servings of fish weekly enjoyed a 42 percent reduction in the risk of developing hearing loss compared to those who ate less than one serving of fish each week.
Deficiencies of other nutrients, including vitamin B12 and folate, have been linked to age-related hearing loss. Increased consumption of these nutrients may help prevent the condition, or at least delay its onset.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, including fish and shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Liver and other organ meats are particularly rich in the vitamin.
Folate is another B vitamin that occurs naturally in broccoli, citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables. Folic acid, found in fortified breakfast cereals, bread and pasta, is the synthetic form of the vitamin.
If you suspect that you have hearing loss, it's time to see an otolaryngologist, a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ears, nose and throat. This specialist may be able to uncover the cause of the condition, and together you can decide on a treatment approach that works best for you.
Rallie McAllister, M.D. is a family physician, speaker, and co-founder of www.MommyMDGuides.com, a website featuring child-raising tips from trusted doctors who are also moms. To find out more about Rallie McAllister, M.D., and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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