Preventing Hearing Loss in Adults

NYU Langone doctors can advise you on how to prevent hearing loss. Loud noise is one of the most common causes, and there are many ways you can protect your ears from noise damage.

However, some types of hearing loss can’t be prevented. Age-related hearing loss—a gradual reduction in hearing that happens to many people as they get older—is often hereditary and may be unavoidable.

Structural changes to the delicate systems inside the ear may also cause hearing loss. These often develop over time for reasons that are unclear to doctors and are also not preventable.

Noise Protection

Loud noise can damage the sensitive hair cells in the cochlea, the part of the inner ear responsible for processing sound. These hair cells convert sound waves to electrical signals that are then sent to the brain for interpretation. If the inner ear’s hair cells are damaged, they can’t perform properly, and hearing is compromised.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends avoiding noise that exceeds 85 decibels. A decibel is one unit of sound pressure, or sound intensity, and is the standard used to measure the loudness of noise. To put this in perspective, a normal conversation might register at around 60 decibels, while a jumbo jet taking off might be 125 decibels.

Protecting your ears from prolonged exposure to loud noise—especially noise at or above the 85-decibel limit—is the best way to avoid hearing loss. If you work with industrial equipment such as jackhammers or chainsaws, or if your job requires proximity to a shooting range or active firearms, doctors recommend that you wear protective noise-canceling earmuffs, earplugs, or both. Musicians who perform live music amplified to loud volumes can protect their ears by wearing earplugs.

Listening to music at a very high volume through headphones or earbuds can also cause hearing loss. Commuters who ride the subway or bus may be tempted to turn up the volume to compensate for a noisy environment, but this may lead to permanent damage.

Some smartphones offer a downloadable application called a sound level meter that tells you the decibel level of your environment. This way, you can monitor the noise level around you and, when appropriate, take steps to protect your ears.

Ototoxic Medications

Certain medications may also cause damage to the hair cells of the inner ear, making them ototoxic, or toxic to the ear. These include some chemotherapy drugs, including cisplatin; some antibiotics, including gentamicin; loop diuretics, prescribed to treat kidney and heart disease; and aspirin, taken in large doses. Avoiding these medications may prevent the development of sensorineural hearing loss.

It’s possible that hearing loss caused by medication may be reversed if the medication is discontinued, but damage to the inner ear is sometimes permanent.

Our doctors understand that it’s not always possible to avoid these medications without risking serious illness. If a medical condition requires you to take one of these medications, NYU Langone ear, nose, and throat physicians and audiologists can help you monitor your hearing and manage the effects of hearing loss, if it occurs.

Tobacco Cessation

Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain nicotine, a chemical that’s been proven to damage the hair cells in the inner ear. Secondhand smoke is a risk factor for hearing loss as well. A recent study completed by NYU Langone doctors found that teenagers are at increased risk of premature hearing loss if they are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Our doctors understand that quitting smoking is not easy, and are here to help you every step of the way. NYU Langone offers support through Tobacco Cessation Programs.

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