Hearing Loss Number Rises in US Population

In hearing loss, News and Technology by Ed Kocher, ACA, BC-HIS

Ed Kocher, ACA, BC-HIS

Did you know that hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the US? Affecting approximately 40 million people, hearing loss tends to occur in older populations, though younger people are also at high risk of developing the condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hearing loss is twice as common as diabetes or cancer in adults.

A recent hearing study conducted by the CDC reveals that one in four adults between age 20 and 69 experience some degree of hearing loss. Additionally, CDC reports that 50% of US adults with hearing damage from noise do not have noisy jobs, and that 25% of US adults who believe they have excellent to good hearing actually already have hearing loss.

The Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur to anyone, at any age, but it is most common among older Americans. Many people have been exposed to noises that could damage their hearing, over a long period of time. As we get older, our hearing gets worse if we continue to expose ourselves to dangerous decibels.

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common causes. Exposure to loud noise harms the hair cells of your inner ear, which are responsible for communicating with the auditory center of your brain. Often times, noise in the workplace could be to blame.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that while there are regulations to protect workers from hearing loss, there are still “22 million workers exposed to potentially damaging noise each year.” OSHA requires that employers maintain a safe working environment and “to protect employee health when noise exposure levels reach a time-weighted average sound level of 85 decibels for eight hours or longer (or 90 decibels in the construction industry.” OSHA has reported that they spend an estimated $242 million annually in workers’ compensation for hearing loss.

At the same time, hearing loss could occur from sounds of everyday life, with no link to on-the-job noise whatsoever. According to the CDC’s new study, “53% of people ages 20-69 who have hearing damage from noise report no on-the-job exposure.” However, there are many other opportunities for exposure to dangerous levels of sound! Leisure activities such as hunting or shooting, or attending live sporting events and concerts, could expose people to dangerous levels of sound.

In addition to noise-induced hearing loss, there are other causes, such as age-related (presbycusis), or due to certain kinds of medications, head injuries, etc.

How to Protect Your Hearing

The CDC cautions that there are many different experiences that could inadvertently lead to hearing loss. For example, a siren of 120-decibels could lead to hearing loss after just one minute of exposure. If you are at a rock concert, just two minutes with 110-decibel tunes could permanently damage your hearing. For the home gardener, consider using the classic rake during autumn time! Two hours of exposure to a 90-decibel leaf blower could cause hearing loss. Use custom hearing protection – or at the very least, earplugs – during these experiences to save your hearing.

If you are concerned about noise outside the workplace, you may have to take matters into your own hands. According to an article in the Washington Post from February 2017, “The federal government has no regulation governing exposure to noise outside the workplace, but the Environmental Protection Agency recommends hearing no more than eight hours of an intermittent noise of 75 decibels or more. That is somewhere between the sound of a working washing machine and the traffic noise inside a car.”

The most interesting detail revealed from the CDC’s study is that 53% of people who experienced hearing loss “said they had no regular exposure to loud noise at work. That means the hearing loss was caused by other environmental factors, including listening to music through headphones with the volume turned up too high.”

Watch Out for Signs

If you’re on the job, employers have been required to post signs notifying you when you should use hearing protection before entering certain spaces.

If you’re out and about, pay some mind to the noise levels in the spaces you frequent. Clubs, bars, and even restaurants could get extremely loud, between the voices of patrons and the volume of music playing. If your ears begin to hurt, this should be a sign for you to move away from the noise!

When you’re on your own, try to reduce the amount of time you use earbuds. Consider switching to noise-canceling headphones, which cancel out environmental sounds and therefore allow you to listen to your favorite music and media at lower volumes. Also, try to take breaks every 60 minutes, and listen to only 60% volume.

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