Your best friend’s voice on the phone. Crashing waves at the beach. Music festivals and the roar of the subway. Sound makes the world go ’round.

If you’ve noticed that you can’t hear as well as you used to — for example, your dining companions sound muffled in restaurants or you find yourself increasing the TV volume to be able to follow along — you’re not alone. Roughly 38 million American adults report some kind of hearing trouble.

Life is noisy, but it’s important to stay tuned. Healthy hearing is a vital part of your overall well-being. If left untreated, hearing loss can lead to feelings of social isolation, depression, anxiety and loss of confidence. It’s also tied to changes in cognition, including an increased risk of dementia in older adults.

That’s why we spoke with Dr. Daniel Jethanamest, associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and director of the Division of Otology, Neurotology, and Skull Base Surgery at NYU Langone, for his sound advice on how to maintain healthy hearing and when to seek care.

Who can be impacted by hearing loss?

Hearing loss can affect people of all ages. It’s more common than you might think. My patients range from infants who are born with congenital hearing loss to patients in their 100s.

The most common form of hearing loss is presbycusis, which is estimated to affect two-thirds of US adults 70 and older.

Presbycusis is caused by nerve degeneration in the inner ear, which consists of the cochlea, a small, snail-like structure, and the auditory nerve, which carries information from the cochlea to the brain.

Presbycusis can be affected by different factors, but it’s often simply a result of getting older.

We’re all likely to experience some form of hearing loss as we age, but the degree of presbycusis and the rate of hearing decline can vary considerably based on a person’s genetics, past environmental exposure to sound and other factors.

Hearing loss is severely undertreated in the US. Why?

Only about 20% of US adults who would benefit from a hearing aid use one. That may be because hearing loss tends to be an invisible disease.

We can’t see it — and we can’t see if others are experiencing it. It tends to come on gradually and quietly behind the scenes.

So, it’s easy to ignore until it’s far along — or until someone else, such as a spouse, gets tired of repeating themselves and urges you to get your ears checked.

The stigma of wearing a hearing aid may also be keeping some people from seeking treatment. But, fortunately, it’s more common to wear something in our ears now, such as earbuds and Bluetooth devices, so you shouldn’t let that hold you back.

Besides presbycusis, what are other types of hearing loss?

Another type of hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, results from a mechanical issue within the ear that prevents sound from being conducted.

It could be earwax, fluid in the middle ear, or an infection in the ear canal from water exposure, often known as swimmer’s ear, which causes a clogged sensation.

Although swimmer’s ear is a small contributor to hearing loss in general, it’s definitely more common in the summer. To prevent it, try shaking your head to knock out the water or use a hair dryer on a low or cool setting a little away from your ears to dry them after swimming.

People often associate tinnitus, the ringing or buzzing in our ears, with hearing loss. While it can be a symptom of age- or noise-related hearing loss, the cause isn’t always identifiable, and the condition can often be short-lived and situational.

Can hearing loss be prevented?

We can’t turn back the clock, but we can protect our ears from excessive noise that can accelerate hearing loss. NYC is a vibrant place with lots of sounds from music venues, sporting events and the subway, but it can be very loud.

If you’re going to be around very loud sounds for an extended amount of time, such as at a music venue, you should wear ear protection.

Musician’s ear plugs lower the sound volume without blocking all the sound. Similarly, if you’re using power tools or lawn equipment, or if you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone within arm’s reach, you should wear ear gear in the form of formable or custom-fit inserts (ear plugs) or ear muffs.

What are the best treatments for hearing loss?

Hearing aids may dramatically improve hearing for people with presbycusis. A cochlear implant may be helpful for newborns, infants and children with hearing loss at birth or rapidly progressing hearing loss and adults whose hearing aids have lost effectiveness.

It all starts with a hearing evaluation known as an audiogram — a test to check your hearing level and rule out an underlying cause.

If you’re diagnosed with hearing loss, you’ll be able to stay involved in the activities you enjoy and live life to its fullest again with the right treatment plan.

Dr. Daniel Jethanamest is an associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and director of the Division of Otology, Neurotology, and Skull Base Surgery at NYU Langone.

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