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Could Modern Life Lead To Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a problem we often associate with old age, and in our youth, we tend to take our hearing for granted. But statistics show that hearing damage is becoming more prevalent among the young and old alike–in fact, it is the third most common health concern in America today. As more and more people in their thirties visit doctors with concerns about their hearing, it’s clear that this is not just a problem of aging anymore. So, what is causing the number of young people with hearing loss to rise? Some say that certain facets of our modern-day lifestyle are to blame for this alarming trend.
Noise-Induced Hearing Damage
Noise-induced hearing loss is becoming increasingly common, and the volume level of the sounds around us (and the sounds we choose to listen to) plays a substantial role in this growing trend. Prolonged exposure to loud sounds does the most damage, and as a rule, the higher the decibel level, the shorter the length of time necessary to cause lasting damage. Examples of sounds that are unsafe include: personal listening devices (80-120 dB), live music concerts (120 dB), subway trains (90 dB), jackhammers and other power tools (130 dB), and ambulance sirens (110-120 dB).
Being exposed to loud sounds for too long damages the delicate hair cells in the inner ear, causing the loss of ability to hear certain frequencies. Sometimes the symptoms of this condition are gradual and slow to appear, and at other times quite severe and sudden. Although treatable with hearing aids, noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed. However, it can be prevented by taking proper precautions to ensure your ears are protected, like always making sure to wear earplugs at loud concerts and keeping your personal listening device at a reasonable volume.
The Modern Life-Hearing Loss Connection
Many of the technologies and advances that have made our lives easier may also be playing a part in the rise of noise-related hearing loss. Think airports and subways, iPods, earbuds and home stereo systems. Let’s take a look at some of the main facets of modern life that could be harming your ears.
Health officials in New York City say the growing noise of the modern city is harmful: for those living near airports, decibels can be up to 100, while subway stations can reach 90 decibels. Both are harmful to the ears over a prolonged period of time.
Work and Leisure
Occupational noise is also to blame for the younger onset of hearing loss: it is estimated that as many as 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful sounds at work. An idling bulldozer is loud enough at 85 dB that it can cause permanent damage after only 1 work day (8 hours). But it is not only construction workers who are at risk: millions of Americans, from nightclub workers to farmers, are exposed to dangerous noise levels every day.
Outside of work, many people participate in recreational activities that can produce harmful noise (musical concerts, loud bars, use of power tools, etc.). Restaurants are louder than ever; noise levels in city restaurants are regularly measured at 90 decibels and sometimes higher. In addition, sixty million Americans own firearms, and many people do not use appropriate hearing protection devices.
Experts are also looking at the excess use of smartphones, iPods and other gadgets, and how they may be impacting the hearing of young people across the nation.
When listening to a personal music system with stock earphones at a maximum volume, the sound generated can reach a level of over 100 dBA, loud enough to begin causing permanent damage after just 15 minutes per day. Earbuds, though comfortable and convenient, pose an even greater risk to ears, as they put loud sounds in direct contact with the sensitive structures of the inner ear. On our daily commute to work, we encounter loud sounds, and sometimes respond by turning up the volume on our earbuds even louder.
Prevention Is Key
In our modern, noisy world, what can be done? Turning down the volume is a good start. Invest in over-the-ear headphones, which do a better job of cancelling ambient noise and reduce the risk of the volume being turned up to a damaging level; isolating earbuds also block out ambient noise, but pose a safety concern when commuting in traffic. A good practice to observe the 60/60 rule: Listen at 60 percent volume for about an hour at a time and then give your ears a break. And when in doubt, bring your earplugs.