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Hearing Loss Among Millennials & Gen Z

Dr. Li-Korotky

A common misconception about hearing loss is that it only impacts older adults. But people of all ages can and do experience impaired hearing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 10% of Millennials have some degree of hearing loss. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 43 million people globally – ages 12-35 – have disabling hearing loss.

In fact, more and more people among Millennial and Generation Z age groups currently experience an increased risk of developing hearing loss. As the world has become more digitally integrated, this technology that is part of daily life can also impact hearing health.  WHO estimates that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults worldwide are vulnerable to hearing loss due to unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to loud noise in entertainment venues. Absorption of loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss. It is important to be aware of this risk and ways you can protect your hearing health. 


Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be caused by several factors including loud noise. Consistent or even one-time exposure to loud noise can damage parts of the auditory system that are critical for processing sound. This includes the thousands of tiny hair cells in the inner ear which work to convert soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals are then sent to the brain where they are further processed and assigned meaning to, this is what allows us to understand what we hear. 

Loud noise can cause the hair cells to lose sensitivity and/or die. This kind of damage is permanent because hair cells, unlike other types of cells, do not regenerate. In other words, people are born with all the hair cells they will ever have. There are no medical treatments to restore these cells so damage results in permanent hearing loss. 


How Loud is Too Loud?

You are likely wondering how loud sound has to be to affect your hearing. Sound is measured in units referred to as decibels (dB) and noise above 85dB can be harmful to hearing health. This is the equivalent of busy city traffic and common household appliances. There are everyday activities that people participate in that generate hazardous noise levels. This includes: 

  • Electronic devices: smartphones, speakers, iPad etc. can reach up to 100dB on their maximum volume setting. 
  • Household appliances: various appliances can reach 85dB and higher. This includes: 
    • hairdryer, blender: 80-90dB
    • lawnmower, vacuum: 90dB
  • Travel: walking or driving through city traffic in addition to airports and flying can expose people to sounds that are 80-90dB
  • Work environments: one of the most common sources of loud noise exposure is the workplace. The Hearing Health Foundation estimates that 22 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work yearly. 

It is important to be aware of volume, loud noise, and ways you can reduce its impact on your hearing health. 


Tips to Protect Hearing Health

There are a variety of useful ways you can reduce the impact of loud noise and protect your hearing health. A few helpful tips include: 

  • Reduce exposure: avoid noisy settings when you can, avoid peak hours and choose quieter environments, decrease the volume on electronic devices, etc.  
  • Wear protective gear: this includes headphones, earmuffs, earplugs, etc. which serve as a protective barrier for the ears. This kind of protective wear reduces the amount and impact of noise you absorb. 
  • Use noise-cancellation headphones: noise cancellation technology is designed to reduce background noise. This prevents people from having to increase the volume on their device when navigating louder settings; enabling people to listen at safe volume levels. 
  • Take listening breaks: this is a simple tip you can easily integrate into your daily routine. The ears and brain are constantly working to absorb and process sound. Taking breaks, where the space you are in is quiet, allows the auditory system to rest and recover. 

Practicing these safety measures offers significant protection and support for your hearing health. In addition to these tips, it is also incredibly important to have your hearing tested regularly. Contact us to schedule an appointment!