How to protect your ears and avoid hearing loss : Life Kit Go easy on the Q-tips. Watch your phone volume. And if you're experiencing hearing issues like muffled sounds or tinnitus, see a professional. This comic offers advice on how to care for your ears.

How to protect your ears: A cartoon guide

How to protect your ears: A cartoon guide

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Kaz Fantone/NPR
A cartoon ear looks frazzled as it&#039;s surrounded by ringing bells.
Kaz Fantone/NPR

If you find yourself in loud clubs, concerts or cities, you might be doing more damage to your hearing than you think. People of all ages are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, but few of us know what to do about it.

In this comic, narrated by an adorable cartoon ear, we learn about the role of hair cells in the ear, hearing issues that may be a concern and how to protect your ears. Hint: go easy on the Q-tips!

This comic is based on interviews with Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, and Dr. Ariella Naim, a senior audiologist at Audio Help Hearing Center.

A person dances at a loud concert. Their left ear complains that it's too loud and pops off their head. They tell them, "You really should be taking better care of me!" DISCLAIMER: Our advice focuses on mild to moderate noise-induced hearing loss that's caused by repeated noise exposure over time.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
Pay attention to what and how you're hearing! Noise-induced hearing loss actually has to do with hair cells. Each of your hair cells is tuned to convert specific frequencies of sound into an electrical signal, which your hearing nerve delivers to your brain.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
If those hair cells are damaged by noise exposure over time, or one really big sudden noise, they won't transmit that sound as well to the brain.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
Some hearing issues that may be a concern: Trouble understanding certain words or hearing your conversation in noisy places. The cartoon ear looks confused as someone talks to them. Some noises are muffled or you're hypersensitive to certain sounds. The cartoon ear is surrounded by empty text bubbles and then looks disturbed by loud noise.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
Tinnitus: Tinnitus can sound different to different people, but it is often described as ringing in the ears. The cartoon ear looks stressed as it's surrounded by little ringing bells. This may happen when damaged hair cells leak random electrical signals to the brain.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
Kaz Fantone/NPR
If you&#039;re experiencing any of those symptoms, get your hearing tested. The cartoon ear sits with a doctor with headphones on. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that if you&#039;re 50 or older, you should get your hearing tested every 3 years. If you&#039;re under 50, you should get screened once per decade after your initial test.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
The cartoon ear happily says, "Here are some ways to protect me!" Reduce your noise exposure, and always wear protection if you know you're gonna be at a loud event. The cartoon ear has an ear plug. Watch your phone volume! As long as you're listening to things at ~60% of the volume bar or less, you should be OK. The cartoon ear sits next to a phone with an earbud in.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
Avoid Q-tips and cleaning, unless it's super gentle. The person looks shocked while they hold a Q-tip. Q-tips can actually push earwax farther into your ear canal and strip naturally produced oils that keep your ear healthy and moist.If your ears feel clogged, sounds are muffled, or if there's any irritation/pain GO SEE A PROFESSIONAL! The ear pushes away a Q-tip.
Kaz Fantone/NPR
If you're already dealing with hearing loss, come up with a plan with your audiologist. There are a lot of people who are hard of hearing and choose not to use hearing aids. But if using assistive technology is a route that feels best for you, there are a variety of options. Some differences to look out for: battery vs. rechargeable, bluetooth and/or telecoil, rescription vs. over the counter
Kaz Fantone/NPR
Unfortunately, cost is one of the biggest obstacles to treating hearing loss. The ear looks deflated and sad as it holds a single dollar bill. You can find a full list of financial assistance options at hearingloss.org. The ear waves to a computer behind them. Look into a trial period before you buy anything!
Kaz Fantone/NPR

The comic was written and drawn by Kaz Fantone. The audio portion of this episode was produced by Margaret and Melia Agudelo and edited by Sylvie Douglis. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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