We’ve all seen the phone commercials featuring the tagline, “Can you hear me now?'” Most of us have probably laughed about it, but the truth is some people just may not be able to hear you.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, millions of U.S. adults have some sort of hearing damage, and most of them don’t even know it. This could be you, so it’s time to listen up!
Hearing loss affects nearly 40 million adults—that is one in five between the ages of 20 and 69, and of those individuals, only one in four is aware that they are suffering from this. Hearing loss is the third most common, chronic condition in the U.S. So, grab the earplugs, turn down the headphones, and move away from the speakers—at least, that’s what the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended.
In its report titled Make Listening Safe, WHO, a United Nations agency, estimates that one billion young people across the globe are potentially at risk of hearing loss, due to “unsafe listening practices.” Common culprits include using a leaf blower, going to loud concerts, wearing earbuds and headphones, and even cell phone use.
A Particular Problem for Young People
WHO’s report claims that the risk of hearing loss has increased due to the popularization of technology; now music devices are often listened to at unsafe volumes for more prolonged periods of time. In middle- and high-income countries, nearly 50% of teens and young adults are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from such devices. From 1990 to 2005, the number of people listening to music through headphones increased by 75%, according to the report’s analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
According to the report, personal audio devices can sometimes sound as high as 136 decibels, and users typically set their devices between 75 and 105 decibels. Likewise, sound levels at bars can range from 104 to 112 decibels. However, the report identifies 85 decibels as the “highest safe exposure level, up to a maximum of eight hours,” and the louder the noise, the less amount of time one can safely listen to it. For instance, the level of sound produced by a subway train is around 100 decibels, thus the sound of the subway can only be heard safely for about 15 minutes a day.
Additionally, exposure to loud sounds for any length of time can cause fatigue for the ears’ sensory cells. When the volume of sound one is exposed to is particularly loud, regular, or prolonged, it can also cause permanent damage to the nerves in the ears and other structures. This can ultimately result in irreversible hearing loss.
“Say What?!” How to Keep Your Hearing
To avoid hearing loss, it is recommended that you wear earplugs and move away from the speakers used in loud venues. One should also turn the volume down when listening to music via headphones, take short breaks from listening to music in this way, and use noise-cancelling headphones.There no need to have the volume on your cell phone or headphones turned all the way up. If you find yourself needing to do this regularly in order to hear adequately, you may already be suffering some hearing loss.
It’s also worth noting that hearing loss oftentimes doesn’t present itself as an isolated adverse issue. One potential consequence of hearing loss is that the afflicted individual becomes less communicative and ultimately more reclusive. Along with that, hearing loss can lead to an increase in blood pressure, stress, lethargy, fatigue, depression, loneliness, and even heart disease.
Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable, but more must be done to ensure that this loss is avoided.
Nurse Alice is a nationally board-certified and award-winning cardiac clinical nurse specialist with nearly two decades of experience in cardiovascular health. She is a community health activist and freelance media health expert. She has appeared on various national radio and TV shows including Dr. Oz, The Doctors, Dr. Drew, News One with Roland Martin, Tom Joyner Morning Show, and more. She is also the author of Curb Your Cravings: 31 Foods to Fool Your Appetite.