Preventing hearing loss promotes lifelong learning, and staying connected to our family, our friends, and our surroundings.

In honor of May being Better Hearing and Speech Month — sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association with the focus this year being “Communication Across the Lifespan” — here are the top ten causes of hearing issues to be aware of:

1. Age

Time always wins. The most common culprit is the aging process — basically, your inner ear starts to go bald (really, the little hairs deep in your ear that are vital grow less as we age).

2. Genetics

The human genome is a vastly complex system and, well, no one’s perfect.

3. Birth Issues

A number of difficulties during the birth — premature, trauma, neonatal jaundice, and maternal diabetes — can all cause hearing issues.

4. Infections

Mild infections cause fluid to buildup and can disrupt hearing. Infections that turn serious can cause permanent hearing loss, so ear infections always need to be monitored and treated.

5. Earwax

It’s actually healthy to have earwax since it protects the ears from contamination and infection. But sometimes things do go overboard and there’s too much of a good thing. If there’s a chance that there’s blockage deeper in the ear, let a professional remove it. Trying to remove it with a q-tip or other device might lead to serious damage.

6. Injuries

Jarring injuries to the head — think football or car accidents — can dislocate bones in the ear or result in nerve damage.

7. Unprotected Exposure

Not wearing proper hearing protection is how many people degrade their hearing. Whether it’s long-term exposure in a noisy work environment or sudden extreme sounds like gunfire or fireworks going off, not using ear protection is a common way they end up damaged.

8. Side Effects

Some medications are known to cause hearing loss issues. Certain cancer medications and antibiotics are the most common culprits. If hearing degrades soon after taking a new prescription contact your doctor immediately.

9. Personal Hearing Devices

The rise of earbuds and headphones is leading to increasing rates of hearing impairment in people long before they hit old age. Taking breaks and turning down the volume is advisable.

10. Concerts

Be careful of shared musical experiences too. The decibel level of modern arena concerts is 110, well above the 85 decibels that can cause hearing damage. Avoid being too close to the speaker stack and consider wearing earplugs.