A surprising one in seven people have a hearing loss - that's about 8.7 million in the UK alone. Age-related hearing loss usually begins at 50 and, according to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, 55 per cent of those over 60 are deaf or hard of hearing. Usually, the only 'treatment' is a hearing aid, a solution that many patients reject as uncomfortable and ineffectual.
Hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or both. Conductive loss is where hearing mechanisms are gummed up - albeit by wax buildup, eardrum damage or arthritis of inner-ear bones. Sensorineural loss results from nerve damage. In either case, early preventative measures can protect your hearing.
* Otitis media, or middle-ear infection, that is repeated or untreated may lead to permanent hearing loss. Homoeopathic remedies are more effective than antibiotics in treating these infections.
* Avoid loud noises (especially high-pitched ones), as these destroy hair cells in the inner ear, causing sensorineural loss. Working in a noisy profession, such as carpentry, factory assembly lines and construction (Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 1995; 121: 385-91), and hobbies involving gunfire, snowmobiles, motorcycles or power tools can also damage hearing.
* Stop smoking. Smokers are twice as likely to lose their hearing than non-smokers. Ears are nourished by the blood supply, and smoking constricts the blood vessels. Hypertension and a high-cholesterol diet can also contribute.
* Try herbs. Ginkgo biloba, periwinkle (vinpocetine) and butcher's broom can help hearing disorders by improving nerve function and blood supply, or protecting against drug or free-radical damage (Presse Med, 1986; 15: 1559-61; Acta Pharm Hung, 1996; 66: 213-24; Otolaryngol Pol, 1990; 44: 122-9).
* Visit a chiropractor. Treating neck or head trauma may prevent hearing loss.
* Improve nutrition. Aim for a diet low in saturated animal fats and refined carbohydrates. Boost levels of whole grains, seeds, nuts, and fresh vegetables and fruits. Include cold-water fish (salmon, trout, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and anchovies) for omega-3s.
* Investigate allergies. Allergy to salicylates (aspirin, most herbs, spices, nuts, fruit, vegetables, caffeine and yeast-rich foods) is a common cause of hearing loss (Am J Otol, 1989; 10: 256).
* Avoid heavy metals, like lead, mercury and aluminium.
* Cut down on salt, which can cause fluid retention in the ears.
* Take antioxidant vitamins A and E, which support good hearing (Acta Vitaminol Enzymol, 1985; 7 Suppl: 85-92). Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is another powerful antioxidant that supports the nerves and generates energy-producing mitochondria in the hair cells of the cochlea (Am J Otol, 2000; 21: 161-7; Acta Otolaryngol, 2000; 120: 596-9).
* Avoid antibiotics, especially aminoglycosides (such as amikacin, gentamicin and tobramycin). A vast number of other commonly used drugs and chemicals can also affect hearing quality (clarity). These include anaesthetics (e.g. lidocaine, procaine [Novocain] and epidurals), antimalarials (e.g. quinine), cancer agents (e.g. cisplatin or carboplatin [platinum]), diuretics, heart medications (e.g. calcium-channel blockers), immunosuppressants (e.g. interferon, glucocorticosteroids such as cortisone), mood-altering drugs, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen), oral contraceptives and HRT, stomach-ulcer medications, and vapours and solvents (e.g. cleaning fluids, petrol).
* Supplement with the following:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine)
Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin)