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Strategies to improve your hearing

Your ears are not like other parts of your body. Working them harder won't make them stronger. The delicate mechanisms chat make up your inner ear are very sensitive. You can damage your hearing gradually doing ordinary, everyday activities without knowing you're doing any harm.

While you can't isolate yourself completely from harsh noises, there are steps you can take to minimize your exposure -- and there are ways to cope with hearing loss.

Quiet your world. The more noise you cut from your day, the better it is for your ears. Wry reducing noise from appliances, printers, and typewriters by placing them on rubber mats. Block out street and other outside noise with drapes, fabric wall hangings, and double-paned windows. The best absorber of indoor noise is a plush carpet.

Insulate your ears. If you're going to be working at a loud task, prepare beforehand. Using power tools, riding motorcycles or snow-mobiles, and discharging firearms are all common activities loud enough to cause serious damage to your ears over time. To prevent this, wear foam earplugs. They are inexpensive, and you can buy them at hardware or discount stores.

Stop abusing noise. A lot of people use noise to cover noise, which only makes things harder on your delicate ears. If a loud noise is bothering you, don't turn up the TV or stereo to drown it out. Instead, see if there's anything you can do to avoid the noise.

Get used to quiet. Try lowering the volume on your radio, TV, and headset. People often listen at a certain volume more out of habit than necessity. If someone standing nearby can hear sounds coming from your headphones, you've got them turned up too loud. Try keeping the noise in your home to a bare minimum.

Give them rest. Your ears need time to recover, especially after a really loud day. Giving them a few hours of low-noise time can help them recuperate from a day's worth of wear and tear.

Don't strain. Extreme physical stress can raise the level of pressure in your ears to a dangerous level and cause damage to your hearing. Use extra caution when lifting heavy objects or exerting yourself in any way.

Exercise regularly. Add hearing to the list of things exercise helps. Exercise improves the circulation of blood to your inner ear where it helps keep hearing mechanisms, such as your sound-detecting hair cells, in good working order.

Ditch the wax. If you think your hearing is going, check your earwax. Cleaning out your ears can sometimes clear up your hearing.

Check your medicine. Some drugs can cause or contribute to hearing loss. Aspirin, furosemide, neomycin, and gentamicin are common culprits. If you take any of these drugs, have your hearing checked regularly.

Talk in corners. Standing in a corner puts two surfaces behind you to reflect sound and make it easier to hear. It creates the same effect as cupping your hand over your ear -- it helps to catch the sound and direct it where it's needed.

Speak up. If you can't hear someone, ask them to speak in a deeper tone of voice. When hearing damage occurs, high-pitched noises are among the first you lose. Lower cones are easier to pick up.

Wear a hearing aid. Hearing aids can work wonders for you, and they are getting better and more affordable every day. Be sure to have yours fitted by a doctor. Although dealers know their product, only a doctor can examine you, find out the cause of your hearing loss, and suggest alternative treatments.

Tune in to the latest technology. If your hearing loss is permanent, but not total, there are many things you can do around the house to make it easier to hear. Some of the helpers available are amplifiers for your phone, your TV, and VCR. Just about anything that makes noise can be retooled to make the noise louder.

Protect yourself at home. For safety's sake, make sure every alarm in your home is loud enough to alert you. Test the buzzer on your doorbell, your oven, security system, smoke detectors, and the ring of your telephone. If you can't hear these sounds, they can be replaced or supplemented with flashing lights.

Closed captioning, which allows you to read along with what's being said on screen, is available on most new televisions. The technology of TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) helps make phone calls easier. More and more companies and agencies are getting TDD lines to accommodate the needs of the hearing impaired.


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