Hear, hear! How to protect yourself against hearing loss

As many as 1 in 4 Australians could be living with hearing loss by 2060. The good news is these simple precautions can help lower your risk.

For many of us, hearing loss may sound like a future problem, but it’s a lot more common than you might think.

About 3.6 million Australians are living with a hearing impairment – a figure expected to more than double by 2060.

Fortunately, many of the causes of hearing loss are preventable.

So, pop in those earplugs, turn down the volume, and celebrate ear and hearing care this World Hearing Day on March 3.

What causes preventable hearing loss?

Hearing Australia principal audiologist Karen Hirschausen says the most common cause of preventable hearing loss is noise exposure.

In fact, more than 1 in 3 Australians have noise-related ear damage.

“This can be caused by a sudden loud sound such as an explosion, or can happen over time with regular exposure to unsafe listening with headphones or from noisy workplaces,” Karen says.

What are the early signs of hearing loss?

University of Melbourne clinical researcher and Soundfair Australia CEO Dr Caitlin Barr says the most common early sign of hearing damage is tinnitus – a ringing or buzzing in the ears.

“This is actual damage to your hearing – the tiny hair cells that dance the message of sound from the ear to the hearing nerve have passed out for the evening,” Dr Barr says.

While most cases of tinnitus ease overnight, each instance increases your risk for permanent hearing loss.

Other early signs of hearing loss include:

  • Frequently having to ask people to repeat themselves
  • Family and friends complaining you have the TV or music up too loud
  • Straining to hear in noisy environments
  • Having trouble hearing others over the phone
  • Often thinking other people are mumbling when they speak

Who is most at risk?

Karen says people who experience repeated or long-term exposure to noisy workplaces, such as construction, manufacturing or the music industry, are most at risk.

“However, this can also apply to those who engage in loud activities such as music festivals or listening to loud music,” she adds.

The World Health Organisation estimates over 1.1 billion young people globally are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices.

“In essence, we are all at risk if we don’t take precautions when being exposed to loud noise,” Karen says.

How can you protect your hearing?

Karen says the best way to prevent hearing loss is to protect your ears from loud noise.

“Unfortunately, in most instances, once our hearing has been damaged, there isn’t anything we can do to bring it back,” she says.

“That’s why it’s so important to focus on preventative actions to avoid any damage.”

Take the following actions to protect your hearing:

  • Turn down the volume
  • Always maintain a safe distance from loud sounds
  • Wear appropriate hearing protection
  • Reduce time spent in noisy environments
  • Use safe-listening functions on headphones and smartphones
  • When listening to loud music, give your ears regular breaks

When should you see a professional?

Dr Barr says if you have any ear symptoms or sudden changes in hearing, you should go to your GP or an audiologist immediately.

And if you’ve never had a hearing test, it’s definitely time to get one.

“Ideally, like eyes and teeth, hearing should be checked every three to five years up to the age of 50, then every one to two years after that,” she says.

“If you love music and sound, you want to enjoy it for life.”

Hearing Australia is hosting more than 1000 events in March 2023 for the ‘Hearing the Nationtour, including the opportunity for people aged over 18 to receive a free 15-minute hearing check.

Written by Dimity Barber.