Life

Hearing Loss Affects Young Adults, Too

What’s that? Pardon me? I didn’t hear what you said.

If you find yourself saying these phrases on a regular basis, you could be the 1 in 4 U.S. adults who suffers from noise-induced hearing loss. These statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may surprise those of us who thought that this type of hearing loss only affects the elderly and results from a lifetime of listening. However, the CDC reports that nearly 20 percent of people in their 20s have some degree of hearing loss, and exposure to loud sounds is likely the culprit.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 16 percent of people with disabling hearing loss, occupational noise exposure is to blame,” said Peter Volsky, M.D., an otologist/neurotologist (Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon who specializes in diseases of the ear) affiliated with Baptist Health. “It’s not surprising that the numbers are probably greater if you include noise outside the workplace, as the CDC has.”

Hearing Loss in Young Adults

Dr. Volsky says the main culprit of noise-induced hearing loss is exposure to sounds above 85 decibels for a sustained period of time. By comparison, normal human conversation measures about 40 decibels. He has seen hearing loss in workers who are around loud noises on the job. “If you’re a landscaper, for example, running a lawnmower or leaf blower daily can damage your hearing,” he said. Boats and motorcycles can do the same.

But, as the CDC’s data show, more than 1 in 2 U.S. adults with hearing damage aren’t exposed to loud noises at their workplace, so other factors are in play.

“Sporting events, loud concerts, blasting our music over headphones or earbuds and other types of amplified sound can cause immediate damage to our ears, which we experience as a ‘ringing’ in our ears,” Dr. Volsky said. “Those effects usually subside in a day or two, but permanent, irreversible damage results from repeated exposure over time.”

What’s more, 24 percent of adults who reported having excellent hearing, the CDC says, had measurable hearing damage. Over time, and without precautionary measures to protect against repeated exposure, that “excellent hearing” will deteriorate to a noticeable deficiency in one’s ability to hear sounds at or around that 40-decibel threshold of normal conversation.

Still, there’s no recommendation for regular hearing screenings in adults who do not have symptoms of hearing loss, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Protect Your Hearing

So, before you get to the point where you experience symptoms of hearing loss from noise exposure, Dr. Volsky recommends the following to protect your hearing:

  • Use caution in noisy places. If you must raise your voice to carry on a normal conversation, you should probably be using hearing protection.
  • Use foam earplugs, protective earmuffs or noise-canceling headsets when around loud noise. You can make sure the earplugs have a good seal by rubbing your fingers together to be sure you can’t hear the sound that action makes.
  • If you are exposed to loud sound on a regular basis, invest in some custom-fit, molded earplugs which are more effective.
  • Try not to exceed the halfway marker on the volume when watching television, listening to music or when using earbuds or headphones.
  • Use technology apps that measure noise levels in decibels and avoid anything above 85 decibels.
Treating Hearing Loss

Dr. Volsky says no proven medical treatment exists, so far, to restore hearing after noise exposure has damaged the ear. Hearing aids and other listening devices help amplify sound to a level that a person can hear, but the damage to the structure of the ear is irreparable.

For that reason, hear this: Protect yourself now from overexposure to loud noises to ensure your risk for future hearing loss is minimized.

 

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