You might think of hearing loss as something that only elderly people need to worry about. After all, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), age-related hearing degeneration (also known as presbycusis) affects one in three U.S. adults. However, scientists at Johns Hopkins University have found that 20 percent of Americans over the age of 12 experience some degree of hearing loss.
The notion that hearing loss is exclusively age-related keeps many older adults from seeking help for what is a very treatable condition. Only 30 percent of Americans who need a hearing aid actually use one. Sadly, hearing loss can greatly lower your quality of life and ignoring it can have disastrous consequences. Medical research shows that hearing loss can even plunge some individuals into both depression and dementia.
That’s why it’s crucial to know the warning signs of gradual hearing loss and to be aware of some everyday threats to your hearing.
Warning signs of hearing loss
As with many progressive illnesses, the onset of hearing loss is slow and subtle. However, the Mayo Clinic has identified five early warning signs of hearing loss.
- Speech becomes difficult to understand. Specifically, certain consonants become difficult to distinguish from one another, resulting in speech that sounds muffled or dull. (Presbycusis negatively affects our ability to detect and interpret sounds at higher frequencies or pitches.)
- Conversations become difficult to follow in crowded or otherwise noisy settings.
- In conversation, you find that you frequently have to ask others to enunciate more slowly, more loudly or with greater clarity.
- You find that you often need to increase the volume of your radio, television and/or telephone.
- You are only able to hear clearly out of one ear.
If you’re currently experiencing one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment with a local otolaryngologist — an ear, nose and throat specialist — so they can properly diagnose the nature of your condition.
Risk factors associated with hearing loss
Although aging is the most common cause of hearing loss, there are several other factors that can have a negative impact on your hearing.
- Workplace noise. Older adults who work as skilled tradespeople are at a very high risk of experiencing hearing loss. Their occupations expose them to heavy and persistent background noise. According to the results of a survey conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 44 percent of carpenters and 48 percent of plumbers suffer from some degree of hearing loss. People who work in manufacturing, transportation, farming, mining or the armed forces are also exposed to higher-than-normal levels of noise.
- Medications. Hearing loss is a side effect of certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs. These include the antibiotic gentamicin and excessive quantities of common pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Additionally, those undergoing chemotherapy or taking antimalarial drugs may also experience hearing loss.
- Loud noises. Prolonged exposure to any noise louder than 90 decibels — including the sounds made by motorcycles, snowmobiles and chainsaws — can permanently damage your hearing. Similarly, exposing your ears to noise above 120 decibels (such as the sound of a shotgun blast or an ambulance siren) for as little as 15 minutes can do serious harm to your ears. Even doing something as seemingly innocuous as attending a rock concert without wearing earplugs that carry a sufficient Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) can be dangerous to your hearing.
- Illnesses. Because they can constrict blood flow to the ears, illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension (or high blood pressure) and heart disease can contribute to the deterioration of your hearing.
- Genetics. While they only affect three out of every 1,000 people, inherited genetic defects can exacerbate the damaging effects of loud noise as well as age-related hearing loss.
If you’re worried about the quality of your hearing, make an appointment at one of the 19 Hearing Aid Express locations across the state of Texas. Their friendly and skilled staff can administer a hearing test and help you find the hearing solution that best meets your personal needs.