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A common misconception is that hearing loss is only a condition that old people suffer from. However, hearing healthcare professionals are seeing an unsettling pattern of hearing loss affecting young people ages 20 to 69. True, advanced age is factor in hearing loss, but damage to the hearing ability due to every day noise is a growing problem with younger Americans, sometimes as young as 12 years old.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that approximately 40 million people in the United States, ages 20 to 69, suffer from hearing loss due to everyday loud noises, such as commuter traffic, live concerts and sporting events, restaurants and music through earbuds. An estimated 17 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds show evidence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in one or both ears.
Moreover, the majority of Americans do not realize their hearing has been negatively affected. This could be due to the stigma around hearing loss, taking a hearing test, hearing aids, et cetera, that prevents people from having their hearing checked. People tend to wait between 10 and 15 years before having their hearing checked. Hearing loss is often gradual, but at the first sign it is in one’s best interest to schedule a hearing exam with the hearing professionals at Pacific Northwest Audiology.
One contributing factor to hearing loss in youth populations today are excessive volumes for prolonged periods while wearing earbuds. As opposed to headphones worn over the ear, in-ear headphones get the sound closer to your eardrum and, at high volumes, can do more damage quicker. The hair-like cells in the inner ear that allow us to hear are sensitive and once damaged, they do not regenerate and cannot be replaced. Additionally, hearing loss worsens as more of those cells die.
Younger people also tend to increase the volume to cover up everyday noise.
In many cases, there are steps you can take to protect your hearing. Conditions that may cause NIHL are often preventable, so the following are some tips to help you help your hearing:
- Reduce the volume. When listening to music through earbuds, be sure to keep the volume below 50 percent to ensure you are not doing any damage to your eardrum or auditory system in general. Also, covering up sound with more sound is not the answer when faced with everyday noise.
- Earplugs can help. If you frequent concerts or sporting events often, where the sounds levels can be dangerously high, it may be a good idea to invest in a pair of ear plugs. They range from high-end models that musicians and athletes use to foam, moldable earplugs that you can find at your local pharmacy. For about $10 dollars, you can easily protect your ears and reduce noise levels by about 20 or 30 dB. The cost of not protecting your hearing can be much higher.
- Restrict your exposure to loud noise. This can happen in a few ways. Limit the number of visits to loud stadiums and blaring fitness classes. If you are in a public space where emergency vehicles are stopped, you can duck into a coffee shop until the sirens are turned off. Practice having your hearing health at the top of your priorities list.
These practices can be difficult in the wake of the stigma attached to hearing loss, but the facts might help overcome it. Taking the first, big step and consulting an audiologist or a board-certified hearing instrument specialist can provide you with a wealth of information about hearing loss, who is living with it, and the many ways it can be treated. If you are able, bring a companion to your appointment for comfort and also to help you receive and sort information.
By advocating for your hearing health, you are at a lower risk for conditions often associated with untreated hearing loss, such as isolation, cognitive decline, and depression. Untreated hearing loss can also influence your physical health and well-being, reduce physical activity and lead to reduced mobility. Visit us at Pacific Northwest Audiology and take a hearing test! Monitoring your hearing early can help that you can prevent future disabling hearing loss.