Few people think of hearing loss as a chronic health condition. Yet it is the third most common in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly twice as many people report hearing loss each year as they do diabetes or cancer. That’s probably because the sounds that can damage your hearing are everywhere. We often expose ourselves with little thought to the damage we’re causing.
You gradually damage your hearing every time you mow your lawn without ear protection or crank up the music on your earbuds. It is possible your hearing may be damaged now, and you don’t even know it.
Hearing loss by the numbers
Around 40 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69 years old have noise-induced hearing loss according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Nearly one in four people who report having excellent hearing have measurable hearing damage. More than half of those with hearing damage caused by noise don’t have noisy jobs.
It’s common for hearing loss to get progressively worse for years before it’s noticed, much less diagnosed. Often people delay telling their doctor about their concerns because they don’t want to admit they have a hearing problem. Only 46% of adults who reported trouble hearing saw a health care provider for hearing in the past five years.
How loud is too loud?
The loudness of a sound is measured in decibels and are indicated with a number followed by “dB.” For example, the noise of traffic outside your car is about 80dB. Hearing damage starts after extended unprotected exposure to sounds 85dB or higher.
Here are some common sounds that can cause permanent damage if heard without ear protection.
- Leaf blower — two hours at 90dB
- Sporting event — 14 minutes at 100dB
- Rock concert — two minutes at 110dB
- Siren — one minute at 120 dB
You can damage your hearing at any age, yet most people associate hearing loss with getting older. Any hearing loss we’ve developed only gets worse the older we get. Age-related hearing loss typically affects both ears and can start as early as someone’s 30s or 40s. It also gets gradually worse as we get older.
Age-related hearing loss starts by affecting our ability to hear high-frequency sounds, like speech. You know someone is talking, but you can’t figure out what they’re saying because of background noise. As we get older, it affects more frequencies, and it becomes harder to tell where a sound is coming from.
Being unable to hear can affect the ability to communicate. It can contribute to social isolation, depression, and a loss of self-esteem. It can also be dangerous as it becomes difficult to hear car horns, smoke alarms, and other warning sounds.
Frequent exposure to sounds that exceed 85dB is the greatest risk that can lead to hearing loss. Working in a noisy environment should require the use of personal protective equipment. Other risk factors include.
- Some medicine like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, diuretics, antibiotics, and cancer meds
- Being male
- Being over 40
Everyone can take steps to reduce their risk, however.
- Avoid noisy places
- Wear ear protection when near loud noises
- Keep the volume down while listening to music or watching TV
- Get a hearing checkup and ask your doctor how to protect your hearing
Don’t take hearing for granted
Having a relationship with a primary care doctor can help keep you healthy throughout your life. Your primary care doctor can also refer you to a specialist for additional care. AltaMed encourages everyone to make an appointment and start that journey to good health with someone who can get to know you and your health needs.
AltaMed doctors can provide you regular checkups and screenings, including hearing tests. Use our Find a Doctor tool to search based on your preferences. You can choose the gender you’re most comfortable with, preferred language, and the city. You’ll find great AltaMed doctors who can keep you and your whole family healthy.