According to the CDC, hearing loss is one of the most prominent debilitating health conditions in the U.S., with almost two times as many reportings as diabetes or cancer. While hearing loss has traditionally been a concern in older individuals, this issue has begun to cross all age groups. This is due to the increasing rates of hearing loss observed in young adults.
So how is sound measured? Sound is measured in decibels (dB) indicative of sound intensity or loudness. To give you a standard of comparison, an individual with normal hearing can typically hear sounds ranging from 0-140 dB. While normal conversation usually meets a level of 50-65 dB, sounds above 85 dB can be detrimental, depending on the length and intensity of sound exposure.
What causes hearing loss?
Aging and noise exposure are the two main causes of hearing loss. Over one’s lifetime, the capabilities of the inner ear gradually decline as the tiny hair cells that line the inner ear are damaged or die. To date, there has been no established single cause of hearing loss. Rather, there are multiple possible causes due to interfering health conditions or internal changes that affect the way sound is conducted.
In younger adults, hearing loss has often been correlated with excessive noise exposure from entertainment venues and electronic devices. Specifically, the problem is too much noise for far too long, whether it be at home or in the community (i.e. raves, concerts, or sports games).
While aging cannot be avoided, there are ways that noise exposure can be controlled to reduce the risk of hearing problems later on.
How to prevent hearing loss?
Take Cautionary Measures
- Avoid excessive noise. If you cannot avoid a noisy environment, try to move as far away from the source as you can and reduce the time spent there.
- Minimize volume when listening to music or watching tv. Try to take breaks when listening in order to give your ears time to recover.
- Use hearing protection devices. Invest in using earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones (over the ear headphones are preferred to in ear buds), or protective earmuffs as a preventative measure.
Hearing loss is permanent and can occur even without the presentation of symptoms. In fact, approximately 24% of people aged 20-69 years old describe themselves as having excellent hearing despite showing perceivable hearing damage. Hearing loss is a progressive condition and can go years without being noticed or diagnosed. Several studies have associated untreated hearing loss with various issues such as depression, stress, anxiety, increased blood pressure, and other adverse health outcomes. That is why early testing and treatment is crucial to protecting your hearing. Luckily, some hearing loss is preventative through these simple and cost-effective measures.
Written by Vicky Nguyen, PharmD student