How to Improve Your Hearing: Is It Possible? Misconceptions Explained by Audiologists and Methods to Prevent Hearing Loss

Sep 20, 2022

Article by Hearing Partners, contributed by Jennifer Lee, Senior Clinical Audiologist at Hearing Partners

Hearing loss is a common condition that can affect individuals of all ages, though it tends to become more prominent with age. It limits your ability to hear and even affects your quality of life.

While it’s commonly asked if one’s hearing can be improved, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest this. Hearing loss, however, can be prevented with proper habits and practices in place.

Learn about the 3 main types of hearing loss, how to prevent them and the common misconceptions about ways to enhance your hearing ability.

Types of Hearing Loss

The 3 main types of hearing loss include sensorineural, conductive and mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss, otherwise known as perceptive loss or nerve deafness, is the most common type of hearing loss. It’s often permanent and occurs when the inner ear or cochlear sustains damage. Voices may sound distorted or unclear to these individuals.

Causes:

  • Ageing
  • Exposure to loud noise over extended periods of time
  • Genetics
  • Illnesses (e.g. meningitis, Meniere’s disease, measles and mumps)

Conductive hearing loss

This relates to problems with the middle or outer ear, where the sound pathway to the inner ear is disrupted. Sounds are, therefore, perceived to be softer by individuals experiencing this type of hearing loss.

Surgery and other forms of medical management can be used to treat this condition.

Causes (outer ear):

  • Birth deformities 
  • Ear wax buildup or foreign objects in the ear canal
  • Bony growths in the canal
  • Ear canal infection or Swimmer’s Ear

Causes (middle ear):

  • Benign growth in the middle ear (e.g. cholesteatoma)
  • Damage to the bones that conduct sound (e.g. otosclerosis)
  • Middle ear infection (build-up of fluid)
  • Perforated eardrum

Mixed hearing loss

This type of hearing loss occurs when both the middle and inner ear sustains damage. It’s advisable to consult an ENT specialist regarding the severity of the hearing loss and the recommended treatment options.

Causes:

  • A combination of causes from sensorineural and conductive hearing loss

Common Myths About Improving Your Hearing

In this section, we bust some common myths and misconceptions about how to improve hearing with the help of our audiologist!

Myth 1: My hearing can be improved

One of the most common myths or misconceptions is that our hearing can be improved. However, there’s a lack of scientific evidence to support this belief.

Our ears are fully matured and functional even before we’re born. Thus, our hearing levels would potentially be at their best capacity during infancy. As we age and become exposed to external stimulation (e.g. sounds, viruses and injuries), our hearing would only deteriorate or maintain at its best.

Additionally, hearing is defined as the ability to detect sounds while listening is defined as a higher-order function where our cognitive and linguistic skills are employed to filter out noise from speech and make sense of the sounds we hear.

Hence, methods that are suggested as ways to improve our hearing often tend to be methods for improving “listening” and/or preventing hearing loss.

Summary:
Though improving our hearing isn’t possible, we can adopt good practices to maintain good hearing health (for better listening) and prevent hearing loss.

Myth 2: Brain exercises can help with my hearing

While brain exercises are believed to improve our hearing ability, there’s little evidence to suggest this. In fact, cognitive decline may occur as a side effect of hearing loss, rather than a causal factor.

Engaging in brain exercises such as puzzle games, strategic games or brain teasers can be helpful in keeping your memory and mind alert if you’re already suffering from hearing loss.

Summary:
Although our hearing ability cannot be improved with brain exercises, our listening ability can. This is important as listening gives meaning to what we hear, especially when we’re in a noisy environment.

Myth 3: Yoga and meditation can help with my hearing

Yoga and meditation are often recommended as ways of improving our hearing.

Specific yoga poses that stretch the spine and shoulders such as the tree or lotus pose are said to help with blood circulation. Yet, while increased blood circulation to the ears might improve hearing acuity temporarily, the effects are insignificant.

Meditation, on the other hand, is believed to improve our hearing because of its emphasis on mental alertness and concentration. However, this is more likely to improve our listening skills rather than our hearing.

As such, both yoga and meditation are more suitable as part of listening exercises. They can also be helpful for tinnitus management.

  • Listening exercises

A listening exercise that you can try at home is to focus on your surrounding sounds, identify them individually, and localise their direction. This can hone your sound awareness, differentiation and localisation skills.

  • Tinnitus management

Tinnitus can be caused by emotional distress and state of mind. As yoga and meditation are helpful for managing negative thoughts and emotions, these exercises could potentially reduce the intensity and/or frequency of tinnitus.

Summary:
Yoga and meditation cannot improve hearing, though they can potentially improve sound awareness and help with managing tinnitus.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can have a negative impact on your quality of life. As your hearing threshold cannot be improved, it’s crucial to understand the habits and practices that can help you prevent the loss of hearing. Read it below!

Infographic on methods for preventing hearing loss

Daily habits to adopt

These are some positive habits you can practice daily to avoid hearing loss.

Engage in physical exercises

Helps prevent: Sensorineural hearing loss

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of age-related hearing loss. A study of 1,000 participants found that older individuals who engaged in frequent cardiovascular exercise enjoyed a hearing sensitivity that was comparable to those in their 30s.

Additionally, such exercise was found to facilitate the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients in the body. This was, in turn, helpful for maintaining the auditory function of the cochlear.

On average, it’s recommended to engage in physical exercise 5 times a week for 20 to 30 minutes a day. When engaging in these activities, it’s important to adopt positive habits to prevent Music-Induced Hearing Loss (MIHL).

Some good practices include:

  • Reducing the volume of your headphones
  • Taking frequent breaks and giving your ears time to recover from loud music
  • Wearing earplugs when the music is excessively loud

Keep your ears dry

Helps prevent: Conductive hearing loss

Excess moisture can cause your ear canal to become a host to bacteria, fungi and viruses. This can lead to infections such as Swimmer’s Ear. Moreover, excess moisture can cause a buildup of earwax, which can affect your hearing.

After taking a bath or engaging in water activities, it’s advisable to gently dry your outer ears with a towel and allow sufficient ventilation to air dry the ear canals.

Engage in listening exercises

Helps prevent: All types of hearing loss

Engaging in listening exercises on a regular basis can sharpen your listening ability. Here are some examples of exercises you can do:

  • Conversing in complicated listening environments

Turn on the television or some background music (on a normal volume) while chatting with another person in the same room. Try to focus on the speaker rather than the surrounding noise.

  • Sound identification

Close your eyes and try to identify as many sounds in your surroundings as possible. You can also try to pinpoint the direction of these sounds.

You could also ask a family member to simulate some commonly heard sounds such as the clanging of pots or the jingling of keys. If possible, a good practice would be to vary the noises for each exercise so you can get exposed to a wider range of sounds.

As you feel more confident in each exercise, you may vary the loudness to increase the difficulty levels.

Consume a nutritious diet

Helps prevent: All types of hearing loss

Your diet is an important aspect of your hearing and overall health. Ensuring that you consume sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals can improve your ear health. In particular, it’s ideal to include foods containing these nutrients in your diet:

  • Vitamin B

Vitamin B can expand small blood vessels, improve nerve function and promote blood circulation to the ears. This can, in turn, ward against age-related hearing loss.

  • Magnesium

Magnesium promotes healthy nerve function in the auditory system. Additionally, it reduces the chances of damage to the inner lining of your arteries.

  • Zinc

Consuming sufficient amounts of zinc can protect the hair cells found inside your ear. These hair cells play a crucial role in emitting the vibrations that transmit electrical signals to your brain. Furthermore, zinc is important for your immune system, which can fight ear infections.

Things to avoid

There are certain practices that you may want to avoid in order to prevent hearing loss.

Avoid placing small objects in your ear

Helps prevent: Conductive hearing loss

Placing small objects such as cotton swabs in your ear canal can be dangerous. They can potentially damage your eardrum, causing pain and even hearing loss.

Avoid smoking

Helps prevent: Sensorineural hearing loss

Did you know that smoking is a risk factor for hearing loss? Nicotine and carbon monoxide, which are found in cigarettes, constrict blood vessels throughout your entire body and lower your blood oxygen levels. This affects the health of the hair cells found in your ear.

In fact, research has revealed that exposure to cigarette smoke can affect one’s hearing health whether they’re exposed directly or indirectly. A particular study also found that individuals who consistently smoked during the duration of the study had a decreased hearing ability.

Moreover, smoking is related to tinnitus, according to a study by BMJ Open.

Avoid loud sounds

Helps prevent: Sensorineural hearing loss

Constant exposure to loud sounds can negatively impact your hearing. It can lead to tinnitus and even hearing loss. As such, it’s essential to avoid loud noises where possible.

If you’re unable to avoid such situations (e.g. if it’s part of your job), some good practices include:

  • Wearing earplugs (and double protect with earmuffs if necessary)
  • Taking a break from the noise every 15 minutes
  • Allowing your ears to recover for 18 hours after exposure to the sound

Professional hearing care

Aside from adopting good habits and avoiding harmful actions, you can also seek professional hearing care services to manage your hearing health.

Remove excess earwax

Helps prevent: Conductive hearing loss

Earwax, or cerumen, is produced naturally by the body to moisturise the ear and protect the ear canal from bacteria and unwanted particles. While it offers certain benefits, a buildup of earwax can cause hearing difficulties, pain and tinnitus.

If you suspect that you have excess earwax, it’s advisable to seek a general practitioner (GP) or Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist for removal. Attempting to remove this on your own can be dangerous as you may accidentally damage the lining of your ear canal and/or the eardrum.

Take a hearing test

Actively monitoring your hearing health through routine tests can allow you to detect early signs of hearing loss. This allows you to take action to manage your hearing as quickly as possible.

If you prefer to take the test at home, you can opt for an online hearing test first before taking a more comprehensive assessment.

FAQs About How to Improve Your Hearing

Is it possible to improve my hearing?

No, it is not possible to improve your hearing ability, though it might be possible to maintain it with proper habits in place.

You can, however, prevent hearing loss by adopting positive habits, avoiding harmful actions and seeking professional care.

What is some food that is helpful for my hearing health?

Examples of food rich in vitamins and nutrients that are helpful for one’s hearing health include:

  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits (e.g. blueberries)
  • Vegetables
  • Cold-water fish (e.g. salmon and trout)

What should I do if I’m already suffering from hearing loss?

If you’re suffering from hearing loss, it’s advisable to wear your hearing aids as prescribed. This can reduce the strain on your brain, prevent cognitive decline and prevent the onset of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

It can also improve your quality of life as you’re able to participate more actively in social gatherings and interact with your loved ones regularly.

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