Hearing is crucial for interacting with the world around us. It allows us to communicate with friends and family, enjoy different types of media, and avoid dangers like being struck by a vehicle while crossing the road. Despite how important hearing is, studies have found that about 25% of Americans have some level of hearing loss, and the numbers are similar in other countries.
While the prevalence of age-related hearing loss remains the same, noise-induced hearing loss is on the rise. The most frustrating thing about the latter is that it is impossible to reverse and is preventable in most cases. With hearing loss becoming a concern, we must include safe hearing practices in our lives to protect ourselves. This article is an exploration of why hearing loss cases are rising.
The World has Become Noisier
As the world has become more modern and advanced, the amount of noise we are exposed to has increased. Many of us live in cities full of cars that make noise all day long, and there are environmental noise sources around us all day.
Sound is measured in decibels, an algorithmic scale that tells us how loud something is. Lower decibels mean we can be exposed to that sound for longer with little to no damage to our hearing.
To understand how loud the world is, normal human communication is around 30 decibels, and a running dishwasher is 70 to 85 decibels. Motorcycles, headphones at maximum volume, and live sporting events are 80 to 110 decibels. Noise at this level will cause hearing damage after about five minutes of exposure. Any noise louder than this will cause immediate hearing damage and ear pain.
A shocking fact about noise exposure is that it causes so much damage that people have difficulty understanding how much damage they have experienced. For this reason, the World Health Organization says environmental noise is an underestimated and often unrecognized threat to our health and overall well-being.
Our Workplaces Have Become Worse For Our Hearing
A change of 5 decibels can significantly change how much risk of hearing damage one is in. Remember that the decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning 80 decibels are much louder than 75. The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety recommends that workers should not be exposed to more than 85 decibels (around the level of a motorcycle) for a full shift without hearing protection.
Because hearing loss can start at noise levels below 85 decibels, the National Institute of Health now says workers should not be exposed to more than 75 decibels in the workplace. Also, employers have to consider exposure durations.
While someone may be fine with these noise levels for an hour, they should not endure them for long without hearing protection. Many businesses understand this and now mandate workers wear hearing protection regardless of the noise levels at a worksite.
Recreational Hearing Loss is On The Rise
In a 2015 study, the World Health Organization found that about a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to recreational activities. The most common activity they identified is listening to music.
Headphones have become louder in recent years, even as their audio fidelity has improved. Young people are also listening to music for much longer than ever before, with the source of sound closer to their ears. While it starts gradually, hearing loss continues as long as young people keep doing this to a level where they need to play music at higher levels to hear it. The cycle continues until they have hearing loss without realizing it.
Another study by Sliwinska-Kowalska and Davis done in 2012 found that more young people are being exposed to loud music at entertainment venues, with the numbers rising annually. Statista found that their sound levels increased from about 49 decibels in 2003 to about 60 decibels in 2013. We can expect this number to have risen in recent years.
Reducing exposure to such loud sounds is the best way to avoid the hearing loss they cause. Young people should also go for regular hearing tests to find out the extent of the damage done and the extent of their hearing loss if they have the condition. If an audiologist finds that you have hearing damage, they will recommend hearing devices such as hearing aids. They will also recommend other options, like hearing therapy so you can receive the support you need as you deal with hearing loss.
Ototoxic Hearing Loss
There is enough evidence to show that ototoxicity results in hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is caused by specific medications used to treat various conditions but has harmful side effects.
Examples of medications that cause ototoxic hearing loss include aminoglycosides and cisplatin. Aminoglycosides are used to treat multi-drug-resistant bacteria, while cisplatin is a chemotherapeutic agent used to treat cancer.
Other medications can cause ototoxic hearing loss, underlining the importance of discussing potential side effects with your doctor before taking any medication or starting new treatments.
Age-related Hearing Loss
Our hearing loss gets worse as we age due to biological and physical changes. The prevalence of age-related hearing loss is not increasing because it has remained at about 70% among those aged 65 years and older for two decades.
However, the world is getting older, with many countries having more older people than young ones. The numbers indicate that the percentage of people aged 65 and above with age-related hearing loss will increase in the coming years.
Additionally, we can expect to see an increase in hearing loss cases across all age groups as those with noise-induced hearing loss grow older. At that point, researchers say it will be difficult to know what causes hearing loss in an individual, and the World Health Organization will likely get rid of noise-induced and age-related hearing loss categorizations.
Hearing loss is becoming a concern globally, with different bodies saying that it might become one of the most concerning chronic health conditions in the coming years. There are several reasons for the rise in cases, including noise and age. Knowing what factors affect you will help you take measures to protect and preserve your hearing as you get older.