Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, affects about a third of the population over 65 and about half the population over 75. This hearing loss can occur due to changes in the inner ear, middle ear, or nerve pathways leading to the brain. While scientists currently can’t fix this condition, there are other ways to keep your ears healthy in order to combat hearing loss. 

Here are 6 ways to prevent additional damage and keep your hearing in top shape:

Avoid Loud Noises

While it may seem obvious, avoiding loud noises is one of the best ways to protect your ears. However, loud noises are everywhere–at concerts, construction sites, weddings, and even in traffic. Fortunately, you can make easy lifestyle changes to avoid these sounds. For instance, rather than watch a movie in a loud theater, watch it at a lower volume at home. Or if you have to go to the theater, you could always speak to someone about lowering the noise–if you think it’s too loud, chances are someone else does, too. 

Decibels are units of measurement for noise. At about 90 decibels–which is the sound made by a lawnmower–your hearing is at risk for damage. Usually, you’d have to listen to that loud noise for several hours before damaging your ears. However, sounds at 105 decibels or more can harm your hearing in less than an hour, and a sound of 140 decibels, such as a gunshot, can hurt your hearing instantaneously. 

Use Ear Protection

In the event that you can’t avoid a loud noise, the next best option is to protect your ears. You can use earmuffs or earplugs to accomplish this, but make sure that the earmuffs fully cover your ears and that the earplugs are fully, correctly inserted. In order to do this, roll the earplug between your fingers, then pull back on your ear with your opposite hand, and place the plug inside until it forms a seal. If half of your earplug is sticking out, then the earplug isn’t in right.

Both earplugs and earmuffs can protect the ear from about 20 decibels of noise. Earplugs allow additional discretion, though they’re easier to lose, while earmuffs can be worn even with minor ear infections. Choosing which protection is better for you is a matter of preference, but experts suggest using at least one of them around sounds of 85 decibels or more. 

Check Your Medications

Unfortunately, medication can sometimes lead to hearing loss. This hearing loss usually occurs rapidly, and it can be permanent or temporary. However, the longer you take the medication, the worse it gets. Drugs with this side effect are called ototoxic drugs. Before taking new medication, always talk to your doctor about potential side effects and what to do if one affects you. 

Some common medications that are linked to hearing loss include chemotherapy drugs, ibuprofen, and several antidepressants. Along with hearing loss, these drugs can cause tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. If you have a health condition that requires one of these medications, your doctor might be able to suggest a substitute that doesn’t affect your hearing. 

Don’t Smoke

Smoking and hearing loss have long been connected. While scientists aren’t sure exactly why, smokers have shown an increased loss of hearing when compared to nonsmokers, and it’s possible that nicotine is toxic to the ear’s inner hairs. Along with potentially losing hearing at higher frequencies, smoking can also cause tinnitus and even ear infections. 

Along with harming your ears, smoking can cause dozens of other problems, including yellow teeth, cancer, and increased risk of stroke. It’s best to just avoid smoking entirely, or if you’re currently a smoker, looking into ways to quit. Secondhand smoke can also have these side effects, so if someone’s smoking, it’s worth asking them to do so at a designated smoking spot. 

Clean Your Ears Properly

When removing earwax, q-tips are a go-to for many people, but just because a lot of people use them doesn’t make them safe. A q-tip can easily push wax back into your ear, which can lead to hearing problems. Worse, you can possibly rupture your eardrum and cause it to become infected. 

Wax is actually good for our ears, as it helps clean and protect the eardrum. However, too much wax can also lead to hearing problems, though they normally heal once the wax is removed. If you absolutely need wax removed, it’s best to ask a doctor to do it for you. Often, the wax may be too hard for you to remove on your own, and a doctor can easily and safely assist. 

Get Regular Hearing Tests

Regular hearing tests can help alert you to problems before they become too severe. If you suspect your hearing was damaged, it’s even more important that you see a doctor. Your doctor can administer an exam and ask questions to help you figure out what’s causing your hearing loss. Once you know, you can take steps to change or remove whatever is damaging your ears.

Ear health is important, especially as we age. While lip reading, sign language, and subtitles are useful tools for the hearing-impaired, making sure our ears are as healthy as possible is helpful in itself. Prevention is easier than fixing hearing loss; in fact, fixing isn’t always possible. 

If you have trouble understanding others when they’re speaking or find yourself constantly turning up the volume on your phone, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. They can find the root of your hearing issue and help you prevent it from getting worse. Protecting your ears from loud noises, using proper cleaning techniques, and avoiding smoking and certain medications are all good habits for continued ear health. The more often you practice these habits, the better your hearing will remain.