HealthZette

Can’t Hear a Thing You’re Saying

The noise overload that is wrecking our ears

“Can you repeat that? Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said.”

If you find yourself increasingly asking family, friends or colleagues this question, it may be because you’re enjoying your music a little too loud. The music in your headphones, at concerts, even the noise level at a sports bar could all be hurting your hearing.

More than a billion teens and young adults are at risk of losing their hearing because of exposure to loud noises, according to a study by the World Health Organization. (Then again, you probably knew that, didn’t you? It’s exactly what your mom has been saying would happen.)

Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, a board-certified ear, nose and throat physician and founder of MDHearingAid, told LifeZette that hearing loss due to excessive noise has increased 30 percent over the past decade. 

“One of the major causes is from things we’re putting in our ears. Technology has improved and (we have) all-day battery life and earbuds go in the ear canal. There’s louder, clearer sound, closer to the eardrum,” said Cherukuri.

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WHO analyzed the listening habits of 12- to 35-year-olds and found nearly 50 percent of them listened to unsafe sound levels on personal audio devices, while about 40 percent are exposed to damaging levels of music and noise at entertainment venues. The study also found that “exposure to noise levels of 100 (decibels), which is typical in such venues (bars and entertainment), is safe for no more than 15 minutes.”

Danielle Harris, a 23-year-old singer, is concerned that her band’s performances with drums and amplifiers could lead to hearing loss.

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“I go to a lot of concerts, and we rehearse music in a small space. I wear protective ear plugs as much as I can,” Harris told LifeZette. “Unfortunately, because of the nature of the guitar sounds we’re using and the fact that we’re using live drums, it’s pretty hard for us to rehearse quietly. When I perform shows I wear at least one earplug.”

To raise awareness of the significant increase in hearing loss, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders launched the campaign, It’s a Noisy Planet. The campaign gives advice on preventing hearing loss and aims to educate parents about protecting their children’s ears.

Melissa McGowan, deputy director of the NIDCD’s Office of Health Communication and Public Liaison, said parents can protect their children’s hearing by ensuring they listen at low volume, avoid excessively loud noises and wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs.

These are important reminders, especially as a new class of headphones appears to be a highly coveted gift for the holidays.

A study done by Brian J. Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and Terri E. Ives, an audiologist at Osborne College of Audiology at Salus University, analyzed headphone users’ listening habits.

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The study found 6 percent of listeners using headphones in a quiet environment listened at unsafe levels. Eighty percent of users who listened in a loud environment listened at unsafe levels. Fligor suggests wearing noise-canceling headphones that block background noise so users don’t have to listen at high volumes.

While children are the focus of many of these studies and warnings, Cherukuri said a majority of those suffering from hearing loss currently are adults under age 65.

For those with hearing loss, Cherukuri suggests hearing aids. Today’s aids are smaller than those of the past and many are not even visible. They’re also much more affordable, making them more accessible.

But avoiding the issue altogether is what Cherukuri advises. Avoid loud noises and take care of your hearing. Poor hearing can lead to relationship or work problems down the road.

“You wouldn’t go to work with blurry vision,” said Cherukuri. “Bad hearing affects jobs and you’re less capable in the workplace.”

Harris agreed: “Your ears are invaluable.”