Recently I was approached by a colleague with a new gizmo in hand — a hearing screener.
Much to my surprise, the quick test showed that I may have some hearing loss.
As a primary care doctor (and quite a few years from the age group targeted in ads for hearing aids) I realized then just how little emphasis is placed on protecting our hearing at every age.
We are constantly reminded to protect ourselves from sun damage, to get regular eye exams, dental exams and other important screenings. But for some reason, hearing is pushed into the "once you can't hear come see me" category.
Look back at your life. How many concerts did you attend without earplugs? How often do you pump up the volume when your favorite song plays?
Vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, motorcycles and countless other annoyances all contribute to the daily assault on our hearing.
Consider your job: Firefighters, police officers, construction workers and many others are at a much higher risk of developing hearing loss as a result of their noise exposure. Our children are exposed to loud sounds every day, and many parents, barraged by noise themselves, don't give too much thought to the potential impact on those young ears.
How many of us have ever even invested a couple of bucks in a pair of earplugs?
Yet once hearing loss occurs, the cost of treatment is considerable. Most people don't realize hearing aids often are not covered by insurance plans, and they can cost thousands of dollars.
They can take some time to get used to, and background noise often prevents patients from using them altogether. People with significant hearing loss may avoid social situations, becoming more withdrawn from friends and family, which leads to isolation and depression.
So do not neglect your hearing health. Protect your children early in life. Know your risk factors. Both vision and hearing are influenced by diet and lifestyle factors. For example, diabetics have a higher risk of not only developing eye problems but also hearing loss. Chronic use of alcohol, and medications such as very high doses of aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, certain antibiotics, some chemotherapy medications and progestin (used in hormone replacement therapies), are all linked to potential hearing loss.
Noise, however, is the leading cause of hearing impairment. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 26 million Americans suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
So what can we do to optimize our hearing health?
• First and foremost, follow the diet and exercise rules that benefit every aspect of health, including hearing. There are some indications that antioxidants like vitamins A and C may fight free-radical damage, including to the auditory system. So eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies and take a good multivitamin for insurance.
• Use earplugs as often as possible whenever exposed to loud noises.
• Lower the volume on your iPods, stereos, TVs, cell phones and any other gadget.
• Spread the word about hearing protection to your family and friends. Be noise conscious, and save your hearing.
Dr. Katarzyna "Kasia'' Ostrzenska is medical director of Bay Medical Center in St. Petersburg and is board certified in internal medicine. She can be reached at (727) 343-6606 or www.baymedical.com, or visit Dr. Kasia on Facebook.