I am a tall 64-year-old man. I used to love having a good vantage point when navigating large parties, but now my height is causing a problem - I can't hear! At most events, everyone else is speaking at least 30 centimeters below my ears and, combined with the background noise, I can't hear a thing. How can I get help? B.F., US. Dr. David Lipschitz, an American physician and author of the book Breaking the Rules of Aging, comments: Gradual hearing loss affects 30 million Americans and a third of any Western country's population over the age of 60. Most hearing loss in older people is permanent and cannot be corrected medically or surgically. This is typically sensorineural hearing loss, which can be caused by loss of tiny hairs in the middle ear that act as microphones to amplify sound. Not only is sound reduced, but the ability to understand speech is affected. Loud noise, damage to the nerves from the ear to the brain and a number of medications taken incorrectly can all affect hearing. A less common form of hearing loss, called conductive hearing loss, is caused by reduced conduction of sound through the ear canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones in the middle ear called ossicles. This can result from excessive accumulation of earwax, fluid buildup in the middle ear from colds, ear infections or allergies, a perforated eardrum or even a foreign body. Hearing soft and faint sound becomes difficult, and often only one ear is affected. This condition is correctable either by medical management or surgery. Risk of hearing loss can be reduced by avoiding loud noises in the workplace, wearing earplugs at concerts, keeping the radio down and watching the noise level when wearing headphones. Avoid ear injury by wearing seat belts and helmets when involved in any activity that increases risk of head injury. Never put foreign objects in your ears, including cotton swabs; take medications exactly as directed and make sure your doctor is fully aware of any condition that can affect medication use - especially kidney problems. Ear infections must be promptly treated, and make sure that you and your children are up-to-date on vaccines for mumps, whooping cough and measles, all conditions that can damage hearing. For people with pervasive hearing loss, a hearing test is often needed to determine if a hearing aid will be beneficial. If nerve damage is the cause, unfortunately, no treatment is currently available. If the cause is loss of hair cells in the middle ear, hearing aids are effective and increasingly sophisticated. With or without hearing aids, there are ways to improve communication. When I call my mother, she frequently complains she cannot hear me. Raising my voice does nothing more than blur the sound, making her even more irritated. When people want the hearing disabled to understand them, they should get up close, look at them eye to eye and talk normally. Make sure that each sound is crisp. When talking on the phone, speak directly into the microphone: Don't mumble, but don't shout either. There is hope for the future. In a study published recently in Developmental Neuroscience, Case Western University researchers reported that they had isolated stem cells from the middle ear of mice and used them to correct age-related hearing loss in older mice. This is a huge scientific breakthrough that could ultimately affect millions of people. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich notes: Although this column on principle does not publish items on unproven medications and techniques claiming to cure diseases, there is room for inexpensive "treatments" that obviously cause no harm even though they may not help. E-mail communications from well-meaning people are full of them. Anyone with serious or long-lasting symptoms should, of course, consult a doctor. Betty Misheker, an Israeli, writes that she suffered from a burning sensation on the soles of her feet. When she consulted doctors, she says, "at best I received a sympathetic nod and was told to wear a thick sponge under the foot to ease the pressure. I bought a can of Freeze Spray, which provided temporary relief." Her daughter read about the "banana skin" treatment. Betty tried it, and it provided immediate relief: She attaches with a bandage a generous strip of banana skin that holds the inside against her foot. If it starts hurting again, change for a fresh strip of banana skin. Note however, that burning feet could be a sign of diabetes, so do not ignore it if it is chronic. Another piece of innocuous advice is for bee stings. One woman's arm reacted to this by swelling. Her doctor gave her cream and an antihistamine, but then her arm became infected, and she was given an antibiotic. Her doctor also gave her free advice: "The next time you get stung, tape a copper penny on the bite for 15 minutes," he said. She tried it the next time it happened to her and told friends; the next morning, there was no sign of a bite. The only problem for Israelis is that our coins do not include copper pennies. For Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx For Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, giving your initials, age and residence.