Previous generations were accustomed to considering hearing loss a problem primarily of the elderly, but both the perception and the reality are changing. A number of cultural factors are contributing to hearing loss becoming much more common and at younger ages. What is driving this trend and what can you do about it? Read on for some answers to why hearing loss is not just an “old people” problem.
Why is Hearing Loss Increasingly Common?
One in three adults over age 65 experience hearing loss, so the perception that it is a problem specific to older people is well-founded. But as many a Gen-X-er who spent their 20s standing next to the speakers at rock concerts knows, hearing loss can also be caused by our environments and choices. And just as garage bands were already doing damage to our hearing, along came earbuds, which, unlike our foam-covered Walkman headphones, delivered sound directly into our ear canals, putting many more people at risk.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is caused by exposure to sustained sound of over 85 decibels, or brief exposure to even louder sound. Excessive noise causes the sensitive hairs in the cochlea to bend and become less effective at transmitting signals to the brain. While tech companies are now designing safer headphones and devices with improved sound control, it still requires some attention to keep your ears safe. Many of us now spend a good part of our day listening to news, books, music and podcasts on our earbuds and headphones, and so developing good listening habits is critical to preventing hearing loss over time.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Hearing?
Unfortunately, once hearing damage is done, it can’t be reversed. However, there’s a lot you can do prevent further damage, mostly by establishing and maintaining healthy listening habits:
Pump Down the Volume—If you’ve gotten used to listening to recorded content at top volume, it is time to turn it down a few notches. While earpods and AirPods Pro can be great hearing-assistive tools for those who already have hearing loss, for the rest of us they can deliver dangerous levels of sound directly to our delicate cochleae.
Use Noise Canceling Headphones—On screeching subways, loud streets and in busy offices we instinctively turn up the volume on our devices in order to hear over the noise. This dangerous habit can be avoided by using noise-canceling headphones, which cut out ambient sound and allow you to listen at lower volumes.
Take Listening Breaks—Listening fatigue is a thing, both for your ears and for your brain. Taking off your headphones at regular intervals gives your ears a break from the sustained noise that can cause lasting damage.
The takeaway is that yes, age-based hearing loss is a fact of life, but there’s a lot we can do to prevent and mitigate it, even when we are young. Developing good listening habits at a young age goes a long way to protect your hearing in the future.