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All ears! Causes of hearing loss from The Doctors

More than 40 million Americans suffer some kind of hearing loss. But the cause might not be what you'd suspect.

Sep. 12, 2013   |  
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The Doctors discuss four potential causes of hearing loss that may surprise you.
The Doctors discuss four potential causes of hearing loss that may surprise you. / Leon Lawrence III for USA WEEKEND

Listen up!

As needs change and new devices are developed, many people find themselves with outdated hearing aids just sitting in a drawer.

You can put those devices to good use, and help the environment, by recycling them. The Starkey Hearing Foundation accepts donations of any make or model of hearing aid, regardless of age.

Donations are tax-deductible, and the devices will help millions of people at home and around the world through the foundationís missions.

For information on hearing aid recycling, visit starkeyhearingfoundation.org or call 866-354-3254. If you know someone who has hearing loss and lacks the resources to acquire hearing aids, call 800-328-8602 to learn about the foundationís Hear Now program for U.S. residents.

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You know aging plays a role in hearing loss. And youíd expect that incessantly blasting music into your ear buds or spending your working years around loud machines might also damage your ears. Some other potential causes of hearing loss, however, may surprise you. Hereís a look at four of them, and the actions you can take to maintain good hearing throughout your life:

Ear infections.Though anyone can get them, they are particularly common among children. Mild hearing loss can come and go with an ear infection, but if it lingers more than a few weeks and becomes chronic, or fluid buildup in the middle ear is persistent, it may result in more significant hearing loss or cause permanent damage. Keep an eye out for symptoms in your little ones, such as complaining of ear pain (especially when lying down), tugging or pulling at an ear, fever, crying more or sleeping and eating less. See a physician immediately if you suspect your child has an infection.

Obesity. A new study has found that obese teens had greater hearing loss across all frequencies and were almost twice as likely to have one-sided, low-frequency hearing loss compared with their normal-weight peers. Scientists suspect that obesity-related inflammation may be a factor, and though more research is needed, the findings suggest a risk of early, and possibly ongoing, injury to the inner ear that could progress as obese teens become obese adults. Itís another reason to help your children maintain a balanced diet and healthy weight.

Smoking. In case you need another reason to quit: Earlier research has shown that smoking magnifies the threat of losing your hearing and that teenagers who are exposed to secondhand smoke nearly double their risk of hearing loss. Now researchers at New York University School of Medicine have found that teenagers are more likely to have hearing loss if their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

Medications. Women ó particularly those under 50 ó who took ibuprofen or acetaminophen two or more days a week were linked to an increased risk for hearing loss, according to research out of Brigham and Womenís Hospital in Boston. More than 200 other drugs ó over-the-counter and prescription alike ó also can damage hearing, sometimes permanently, says the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; they include certain types of antibiotics and chemotherapy treatments, aspirin (in large doses), anti-malarial drugs and certain diuretics used for heart and kidney problems. Work with your doctor to manage medications and monitor your hearing before and during treatment.

The Doctors is an award-winning TV show. Check local listings. See video on this topic at usaweekend.com.

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The Doctors

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.