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An all-ages issue

Hearing loss is the third-most common chronic physical condition in the United States, but it’s no longer a problem limited to the aging population.

Audiologists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center warn that boomers and millennials are developing hearing loss from everyday noise exposure, such as wearing earbuds, playing video games and attending sporting events in noisy arenas. Other causes include everyday exposure to leaf blowers, sirens, concerts and other loud sounds.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 40 million American adults have lost some hearing because of noise, including 25 percent of people aged 20 to 69 who reported suffering from some hearing deficits.

The study also revealed that 19 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 had some hearing loss.

Many people — of all ages — face challenges every day with their hearing. What are signs of hearing loss you should be watching for?

  • You find telephone conversation increasingly difficult.
  • You have trouble understanding all the words in a conversation.
  • You slowly realize that you no longer hear normal, everyday sounds.
  • You have trouble hearing women and children.
  • The family complains that you play the radio or TV too loudly.
  • You often ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You have ringing or buzzing in your ears (tinnitus).

Many people don’t realize they are living with a hearing loss — or even recognize that their hearing is getting worse, for the simple reason that hearing loss is usually gradual and painless. They just adjust to their new reality of no longer hearing everyday sounds.

Earbuds, live music and other concerns

Two factors can lead to hearing loss — the loudness of a noise and the duration of loud noise.

The World Health Organization estimates 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of unsafe use of earbuds. But even headphones can be made dangerous depending on the volume.

In its analysis, the WHO found that almost half of those aged 12 to 35 listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.

So it’s important to know that even temporary ringing in your ears after attending a loud rock concert is a sign that damage has been done to the hair cells in your inner ear, which are responsible for hearing. And, once damage is done, you’ll experience a decrease in your hearing sensitivity over time, Ohio State’s audiologists warn.

Ohio State experts say that, in general, if you’re engaged in an activity that prevents you from understanding a person’s normal speaking voice at a conversational distance, then you should use hearing protection. For most people, that’s around 85 decibels (dB), which is akin to the noise of city traffic, a blender, a blow dryer or idling heavy machinery. Some other examples include:

  • Listening to music with earbuds: 95 dB
  • Power tools: 98-110 dB
  • Motorcycle: 100 dB
  • Mowing the grass: 107 dB
  • Music concert: 115 dB
  • Thunderclap: 120 dB
  • Firing range: a typical gunshot is 140-190 dB
  • Jet engine: 140 dB

Protecting yourself

If you’ll be experiencing sounds that are louder than 85 decibels, you should seriously consider using hearing protection, since exposure of any duration at this level can be damaging.

Hearing protection generally comes in two types: in-the-ear or over-the-ear. In either case, a good fit is essential. A well-seated earplug should completely seal the ear canal, while the over-the-ear type should be properly seated around the entire ear.

If you’re a frequent user of hearing protection, you could also opt for custom hearing protectors from an audiologist. Custom in-ear protectors modeled specifically for your ear canal ensure that you get a perfect fit with each use, and help you avoid the bulkiness of over-the-ear protection.

With proper precautions, many people can keep their hearing healthy at any age.

If you find yourself, your children or your parents experiencing any of the signs of hearing loss, take action: Call 614-366-3687 to schedule an appointment with an Ohio State audiologist.