Think hearing loss is only for old people? According to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly one in five American teenagers has some hearing loss, a sharp increase from just 15 years ago.
“The incidence of hearing loss has increased,” says Dr. Jerry Puckett, an otolaryngologist with Saint Francis Health System.
“Noise exposure due to music, construction, military service and some treatments and medications can all impact your hearing. These factors increase the need for hearing health care for old and young people.”
Many experts believe portable stereo devices play a significant role in the hearing loss increase among teens. When you consider the fact that 60 percent of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are hearing impaired, it makes sense to point to loud music as a culprit. Hearing loss is usually gradual and cumulative, and today’s teenagers may be risking impaired hearing in their 40s and 50s, rather than in their 60s or 70s.
“Continuous sound at harmful levels (above 85 decibels) can damage hair cells in the ear and the auditory nerve,” says Dr. Ashley Estep, a family physician with St. John Sapulpa.
“Very few people understand the dangers of noise exposure from headphones and ear buds,” concurs Erin Buchanan, an audiologist with Saint Francis.
Sometimes, hearing loss signals a more serious medical condition.
“Rarely, hearing loss can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis,” says Estep. “Sudden hearing loss can be a presenting symptom of chronic myelogenous leukemia.”
Hearing loss can also be hereditary, passing from one generation to the next.
“When you have a family history of hearing loss, it’s important to have a yearly hearing test,” adds Puckett.
All our experts recommend buying good quality earplugs and wearing them whenever you’ll be exposed to loud noises.
They also emphasize the need for regular hearing checks.
“Yearly testing can identify hearing loss at an early stage and allow the patient to seek assistance,” concludes Buchanan. “The earlier hearing loss is detected, the better for the patient.”
Once your hearing is gone, there is no way to get it back, and the best remedy for hearing loss is prevention. Experts offer these tips:
• Always wear ear plugs (foam, silicone or pre-molded) when mowing the lawn, operating power tools or shooting firearms.
• Never turn an iPod or MP3 player above 50 percent volume.
• Stay at least 10 feet away from on-stage monitors or amplifiers.
• Never use one sound to drown out another.
• Avoid prolonged exposure to any loud noises.