We often see children attending events wearing hearing protection accompanied by their parents wearing none. The truth is that noise-induced hearing loss is a risk factor at any age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “about 40 million US adults aged 20-69 years have noise-induced hearing loss.” More than half of these adults report no on-the-job noise exposure, which points to recreational time as the possible source.
October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, which is a great opportunity to raise awareness on how to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Common sounds that can be too noisy include traffic, lawn equipment, sporting events, sirens, and listening to loud music at concerts or through headphones or earbuds. The World Health Organization’s World Report on Hearing (2021), estimates that “more than 50 percent of people ages 12 to 35 use smartphones/personal audio devices at volumes that pose a risk to their hearing.”
Sound is measured in decibels and sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a short time, such as gunshots during target shooting. Sounds can also be damaging when they are loud and long-lasting, such as noises emitted from some lawn equipment. Certain sounds cause hearing loss by damaging structures in the inner ear and long or repeated exposure to sounds at certain frequencies can cause hearing loss. It should also be noted that the louder the sound is, the less time it takes for damage to occur. Check out resources from the CDC and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to see how loud everyday sounds may be.
Noise-induced hearing loss may be immediate or may be gradual over time and go unnoticed. The good thing about noise-induced hearing loss is that it is preventable. Some ways to prevent this type of hearing loss include:
- Avoiding noisy places when possible;
- Turning down the volume when watching TV or listening to music;
- Using hearing protection such as earplugs or protective earmuffs;
- Asking your doctor for a hearing screening and how to protect your hearing; and
- When avoiding the noise and wearing hearing protection are not possible, move farther away and take breaks from noise.
The CDC also provides tips for how healthcare providers can help reduce loss for their patients by asking patients about noise exposure and providing hearing tests as part of routine care, providing hearing tests to those who show or report problems or referring them to a hearing healthcare provider, explaining how noise exposure can permanently damage hearing, and counseling patients on how to protect hearing.
If you find yourself having trouble understanding speech in noisy places, find it hard to follow speech in groups or when a person’s mouth is covered, listening makes you tired, or you are turning up the volume of the TV and others complain it is too loud, then you may have hearing loss. If you have concerns about your hearing, ask your personal healthcare provider about having a comprehensive hearing evaluation.
Untreated hearing loss is associated with poorer overall health, including cardiovascular risk, cognitive changes, diabetes, balance disorders, and depression, and can lead socially engaged adults to become isolated. There is no better time than now to protect your hearing, check out this resource from the NIH about which hearing protection is right for you.
If you have hearing loss and would like to learn more about how NCDHHS' Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing can help, contact one of our regional centers.