by Candy Sagon / © 2017, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Hearing loss, that’s an older person’s problem, right? Think again. Noise, not age, is the leading cause of hearing loss. While hearing problems are common among older folks, damage from everyday noise is growing among younger Americans, including those in their teens and 20s.
The latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] shows some 40 million Americans ages 20 to 69 with hearing damage from everyday loud noise, including heavy traffic, noisy restaurants, rock concerts, sporting events and loud music via earbuds.
Among 12- to 19-year-olds, researchers estimate some 17 percent show evidence of noise-induced hearing loss in one or both ears.
Worse, many Americans don’t even realize their hearing has been affected. In the CDC’s analysis of more than 3,500 hearing tests, one out of four adults claimed their hearing was just fine and reported no job-related noise, yet hearing tests indicated they already had noise-induced hearing loss. This type of damage causes a telltale drop in the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, and it was evident in those as young as 20.
Many young adults don’t realize that hearing loss is permanent. When loud noise kills the sensitive inner-ear cells that allow us to hear, they don’t regenerate.
“The hearing you have when you’re born is all you get. Those cells can’t be replaced,” says [Cleveland Clinic audiologist Sarah] Sydlowski.
And the damage is cumulative, adds [Northwestern University audiologist Jack] Scott. The more often the ears are exposed to damaging noise, the more cells die, leading to impaired hearing.
An earlier diagnosis
Part of the reason hearing damage is showing up earlier is today’s improved portable devices. The sound level 28 years ago from the Walkman, with its flimsy headphones, was much lower than today’s high-fidelity smartphones with earbuds that deliver louder sound much closer to the eardrum.
But don’t just blame the earbuds, says Sydlowski. People underestimate what a safe level of sound is, “especially when they’re already in a noisy environment.”
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