The Rise of Hearing Loss in Younger People

Hearing loss isn’t just for older people. One in eight Americans over the age of 12 has some degree of hearing loss in both ears as shown in standard hearing exams. Yale University’s Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, specializing in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, states that hearing loss “is a significant problem, even in middle age.”

And while it is a condition we typically associate with seniors, hearing loss can intrude at any age. 

Hearing loss in mid-life

A study composed primarily of middle-aged Americans found that one in nine lives with hearing loss. To qualify as ‘hearing loss,’ the subjects had to show at least one ear with difficulty hearing a variety of sounds within the range of speech in a standard hearing exam that was conducted by the study’s researchers. 

In many cases, hearing loss at this level can be so subtle that the person isn’t even aware that hearing loss is at play yet. The criteria used is considered a ‘mild’ hearing impairment and yet it will both impact ease of hearing in the short term and likely evolve into a larger degree of impairment down the road. 

Hearing health care for adults

Most people in the United States had their hearing tested when they were children through school-age screening initiatives. After these regular check-ins, it could be many decades before hearing health comes back onto the radar, unless a hearing issue presents itself. But experts recommend getting a hearing exam once every ten years for those over the age of 18. When people reach fifty years of age, they should schedule a hearing exam every three years. 

As the likelihood of hearing loss increases with age, people over the age of 65 should have their hearing tested on an annual basis. 

Teenagers aren’t immune from hearing loss

The very behaviors that may be contributing to a rise in hearing loss among middle-aged populations are also currently in the spotlight as dangerous to today’s younger folks. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a warning because they believe that young people, aged 12-35, are at a greater risk for future hearing loss than ever before. 

According to the WHO, more than a billion people are risking their hearing loss because of the way they consume music and volumes of other recreational activities. They estimate that the number of global hearing loss cases will climb exponentially over the next fifty years.

How hearing loss works

Outside of the normal aging process, exposure to excessive noise is primarily responsible for hearing health damage. Both harm the inner ear cells over time, leading to a declining number of these hearing heavy lifters. These inner ear cells collect noise and turn it into sound information that is then sent to the brain for processing. As they are harmed, we have less available to collect sound and we then send less sound information to the brain to process. 

Hearing loss due to aging and noise exposure is irreversible and progressive, which means it gets worse gradually. The good news is that hearing loss is also highly treatable with solutions like hearing aids and cochlear implants. 

Ways to protect your hearing

Prevention remains the best cure, so prioritize your healthy hearing today. Take the time to schedule a hearing exam right now, or make a note to speak to your physician at your next physical. 

Choose responsible listening behaviors like pledging to keep your volumes at or below halfway and never crank the volume past two-thirds of maximum. If you wear earbuds or headphones for long periods of time due to school, work or entertainment, consider giving yourself silent breaks of around five to ten minutes every hour. 

Dance clubs and rock concerts don’t have to be avoided, but they should be attended with a bit of caution. If you’re heading to a noisy show, bring along a pair of custom earplugs or buy a disposable pair at the venue. A little protection can go a long way to bring your exposure level down from dangerous to acceptable. Earplugs might get you the kind of attention you’d rather avoid at the dance club, but you can always step outside or find a quiet place for five to ten minutes every hour or so. Giving your ears and your brain a chance to rest and recover can help prevent hearing loss later in life.