As one of the most preventable risk factors, it’s no secret that excess noise exposure — a leading cause of hearing impairment, along with aging and injury — can do a number on your ears. But did you know that other dangers lurk? Check out these five sneaky causes of hearing loss and ways to reduce your risk.
Smoking, the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. and Canada and the culprit behind most lung cancer cases, can also increase the chances of developing a hearing impairment — even without exposure to occupational noise. The best defense: Reduce or eliminate tobacco use altogether.
That painful ear-popping you might experience while on a descending plane is a common effect of altitude-related air-pressure changes in the middle ear, which can cause other problems, including temporary hearing loss.
To relieve the ear pressure, try holding your nose, closing your mouth, and softly blowing without exhaling air. Alternately, before ascent or descent, try yawning or chewing gum.
Water trapped in the ear canal — commonly associated with activities such as swimming — can lead to bacterial or fungal growth that causes swimmer’s ear, a painful outer-ear infection that also involves symptoms such as fever and temporary hearing loss. The best defense: Keep your ears dry with earplugs during water activities, towel-dry them as needed, and always practice safe ear cleaning.
Medications and other chemicals, such as some chemotherapy drugs, can damage the inner ear.
It’s called “ototoxicity,” which can lead to hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders. Avoiding the chemical source can help but isn’t always possible, so check with your provider when taking medications, handle chemicals as necessary with care, and get a hearing check before taking ototoxic medications or if any changes in hearing or balance occur.
Speaking of ear cleaning: When handling excess earwax, avoid sticking cotton swabs or other objects — really, anything smaller than your elbow — in your ear, which can cause injury and push wax deeper into the ear canal. Also, steer clear of ear candles, which can cause serious injury. A safer bet: Use a warm, soft cloth after washing or showering to remove normal amounts of earwax at the outer ear, if needed.