Tips to Help Prevent and Treat Hearing Loss

More than 90 percent of Americans know that exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss; however, just 50 percent correctly recognized that both one-time exposure to a loud sound and cumulative exposure to moderately loud sounds can harm hearing health, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.

Hearing loss affects more than 48 million people nationwide, and it could become even more widespread in the coming years: more than 1.1 billion young adults worldwide are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to a study by the World Health Organization.

These statistics are a reminder for people to check their hearing health – and that of their loved ones – to help prevent the condition or, if necessary, obtain treatment. Hearing health is crucial to overall health, as research shows hearing loss is associated with social isolation, dementia, depression and increased risk of falls.

To help encourage better hearing health in 2019, consider these tips:

  • Limit exposure to loud noises: People should limit their exposure to loud sounds, such as music, lawn mowers or motorcycles, to no more than 20 minutes at a time. If attending a football game or music concert, consider wearing ear protection (i.e. ear plugs). This is especially true for young people, as children’s ears are more susceptible to harm caused by exposure to loud sounds. While hearing loss is more common among older Americans, younger people can also be affected: about 20 percent of people over age 12 experience some level of hearing loss. 
  • Opt for noise-cancelling headphones: One factor spurring the increased risk of noise-induced hearing loss is the growing popularity of earbuds. People should consider over-the-ear headphones – especially models with noise-cancelling properties – as those are generally considered a better option than earbuds. When using earbuds, follow the “60/60 rule,” which means listening for no more than 60 minutes at a time and at no more than 60 percent of the player’s maximum volume. If someone else can hear your music while you’re using earbuds, it’s an indication of excessive volume. 
  • Talk to a health professional and schedule a hearing test: Common signs of hearing loss include turning up the volume on the TV or radio to levels that others find too loud, having trouble hearing people on the phone, and difficulty following conversations in noisy environments. Some primary care physicians are starting to offer hearing testing, making it more convenient to follow recommended guidelines, which includes being screened at least every decade through age 50 and then at three-year intervals thereafter. 
  • Explore ways to save on hearing aids: Hearing aids can be expensive, but more affordable options are available. Direct-to-consumer hearing aids can enable people to save 60 percent or more compared to devices sold through traditional channels. And a growing number of health plans are offering coverage for hearing aids, including through some Medicare Advantage and employer-sponsored benefit plans. 
  • Use effective communication strategies: Hearing aids are more helpful when people use effective communication strategies, such as watching lip movements and facial expressions, and selecting settings that are “hearing friendly.” For example, people with hearing loss should opt for restaurants that are relatively quiet and go at times that aren’t as busy. Another strategy is to select a table along a wall or in a corner, which will reduce background noise.

Looking to help reduce your health care costs in 2019? Consider these 5 money-saving tips

For many people, the start of a new year is a customary time to assess their health and finances. And for most Texans, new health plan benefits begin in January, so now is an ideal time to learn how your health plan works.

Here are five tips that may lead you to better health and even help save you money this year and beyond.

Understand your health plan
It sounds basic, but understanding your health plan before you need to use your benefits can save you a lot of time, stress and money. Learn what your health plan covers – including medical, pharmacy and preventive benefits. When in doubt, call the number on your health plan ID card to get the most up-to-date information.

Also, it’s a good time to make sure you understand health plan terms such as deductible, copay, coinsurance and out-of-pocket limit. If you need a refresher, there are resources online such as the Just Plain Clear Glossary to help you learn and understand these terms.

Ask about lower-cost prescriptions
If you’re worried about the cost of a medication, mention your price concerns to your doctor who can help find the most appropriate and affordable option for you. Many doctors are now using technology that enables them to view precise medication costs in real time before leaving the exam room. You may be surprised to learn that generic medications often are more affordable, and just as safe and effective as their brand-name equivalents.

In addition, some pharmacy benefit plans now offer discounts at the point of sale by providing savings from pharmacy manufacturer rebates directly to consumers. These discounts could potentially lower your out-of-pocket costs on select medications.  

Stay “in network”
One way to help keep costs down is to stay in your health plan’s care provider network, which consists of the doctors, specialists, hospitals and other care facilities with whom your health plan has contracted to provide health care services. Your insurance company has agreed to pay those health care providers a certain amount of money for your visits – usually a discounted rate. Because of those discounts, you usually pay less when you see a health care provider in the network vs. one who’s outside the network.

For out-of-network care providers, your insurance may cover only a fraction of the cost of care – or none at all – depending on your plan. Before you make your next appointment, check with your health plan to make sure the provider or facility is “in network.”

Know your care options before you go
If your health issue isn’t an emergency, visit your primary care doctor for care first. Your doctor knows you and your health history, can easily access your medical records, and can take care of many health needs, provide follow-up care or refer you to specialists.

If it’s not possible to visit your regular doctor, you may be able to receive fast, professional and lower-cost care at an urgent care center, a convenience care clinic or an online doctor visit. Online doctor visits are a great option for treating conditions such as colds, migraines and allergies. Online visits often can cost as low as $40 or $50 per visit, much less than a trip to urgent care or an emergency room.

Take advantage of wellness discounts and incentives
Many health plans now offer financial incentives that reward you for taking healthier actions such as completing a health survey, exercising, or meeting nationally recommended health benchmarks for cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, and no nicotine.

An increasing number of employers are offering wellness discounts and incentive-based wellness programs to support their employees’ efforts to help improve their health. These initiatives may also lead to increased employee satisfaction, productivity and reduced costs.

Image: Stock Photo

Tips to Help Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, Texans make New Year’s resolutions, many of which improve their health and wealth. In fact, more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans plan to make health-related New Year’s resolutions this year, while a nearly equal number (34 percent) have vowed to improve their financial well-being, according to a new UnitedHealthcare survey.

What are the most common resolutions for 2019? Among people making health resolutions, 34 percent are planning to exercise more, 17 percent intend to eat a healthier diet and 15 percent hope to lose weight. When it comes to financial health, the most common resolutions include saving more (36 percent), paying off debt (20 percent) and increasing income (18 percent).

With that in mind, here are four tips to help encourage a healthier lifestyle for 2019:

Leverage Technology
If you received a new gadget as a holiday gift, there are ways to use that technology to help achieve your resolutions. In fact, the UnitedHealthcare survey found that 53 percent of people making health resolutions plan to use technology to help achieve their goals, including a smartphone app (34 percent), activity tracker (27 percent) or virtual visit with a health care provider (10 percent). Technology can also help people more effectively navigate the health system: online resources now provide quality and cost information for health care providers and treatments in your local area, while some mobile apps can help people evaluate different care settings based on their symptoms, ranging from a virtual visit, primary care, urgent care or the ER.    

Walk to Help Improve Health
If walking is how you plan to improve your fitness, there are some strategies to help make your workout more effective. Think FIT, which stands for frequency (500 steps within seven minutes six times per day), intensity (3,000 steps within 30 minutes each day) and tenacity (at least 10,000 total steps per day). If those targets seem daunting, remember to start slowly and build up over time. For added motivation, some employer-sponsored programs provide financial incentives by meeting walking goals.

Check Available Resources
Many employers (86 percent) offer wellness programs, with the average financial incentive exceeding $780 per year per employee, according to a recent survey. To determine if that applies to you, check with your health plan or employer to see what resources and incentives may be available, including telephonic wellness coaching, gym membership reimbursements, and smoking cessation. You might also have access to various health screenings – such as blood pressure, cholesterol and depression – and timely vaccines, such as the flu shot. Doing so may help you get or stay healthy.

Help Improve Your Oral and Vision Health
With growing evidence of a link between oral and vision health to overall health, as well as to an array of chronic medical conditions, it is important to take care of your teeth and eyes. In fact, 45 percent of Americans say improving their oral health ranks among their resolutions, including visiting the dentist once per year (12 percent), eating less sugary foods/candy (12 percent), and flossing at least once a day (11 percent). For people with certain chronic conditions, maintaining or improving oral health is especially important, while comprehensive eye exams can detect many diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and some types of cancer.