A recent HealthScout (www.healthscout.com) article described the progression to younger and younger people being diagnosed with irreversible hearing loss. Many years ago, a “typical” hearing loss patient was in his seventies. Today audiologists are seeing people in their sixties, fifties, and even fourties.
The big difference between the previous situation and the current situation involves the cause of the hearing loss. In earlier times, hearing loss was largely attributed to the aging process, but many of today’s cases are self-induced. Loud music, movies, work environments, and even televisions contribute to the current hearing loss epidemic.
According to most recent National Health Interview Survey, 26 percent of respondents between age 45 and 64 report hearing difficulties, as do an amazing 17 percent of people between 18 and 44.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that hearing loss caused by workplace noise is the most common job-related ailment.
Wichita State University professor Ray Hull reports that up to 75 percent of high school seniors have the beginnings of permanent hearing loss. The volume of some of their headsets is over 115 decibels, which can cause permanent hearing damage in as little as seven and a half minutes.
Even movies can be a problem, with sound levels as high as 118 decibels.
Professor Hull also points out that every person is different. While one person can suffer permanent hearing loss from a single loud noise, others seem to be immune to a series of similar noises.
The first sign of permanent hearing damage is often tinnitus, or “ringing in the ears”. Another common early indication is the inability to understand another person in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant. High frequency sounds are often the first to be lost; these include ‘f’, ‘s’, and ‘th’.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends the use of earplugs or other protective devices when loud noises can’t be avoided. They also point out that breaking up periods of exposure to high volume with quiet times is beneficial.
People who suspect they are in early stages of hearing loss should see an audiologist for a thorough examination.