It's hard to know when your hearing is damaged, unless you have a hearing test. About 1 out of 4 US adults who report excellent to good hearing already have hearing damage. A new CDC Vital Signs report finds that many of those with hearing damage report no workplace noise exposure.
About 40 million US adults aged 20-69 have hearing damage in one or both ears that may be due to noise exposure. CDC found that more half of those (53%) report no exposure to loud noise at work. Based on the information they provided, researchers believe their exposure to loud sounds comes from everyday activities in their homes and communities.
Noise exposure is the second most common cause of hearing loss. (Aging is first.) The louder a sound is and the more often a person is exposed to it, the more likely it will damage hearing. Common activities in homes and communities—such as using gas-powered lawnmowers or leaf blowers or attending a rock concert or ball game—can cause permanent hearing loss. Once hearing is gone, it's gone forever.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a concern not only because it makes conversation and other daily activities more difficult, but also because it causes many other health problems. Exposure to noise causes stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Even though noise is all around us, much hearing loss from noise is preventable. And the steps to protect the ears and preserve hearing are relatively simple and don't cost much.
- Avoid noisy places whenever possible.
- If you must be in a noisy environment, step away from the sound source, and try to minimize the amount of time spent there.
- Use earplugs, as a convenient, low-cost form of protection. Or use protective ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones.
- At home and in the car, keep the volume down. And even though the evidence is mixed about using earbuds or headphones for listening, it's still smart to keep the volume down and take breaks from listening.
- People who know they've been exposed to loud noise, or who are concerned that they aren't hearing as well as they used to can ask their doctors for a hearing checkup.
Clinicians, especially primary care providers, can play an important role in identifying hearing in its early stages. Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals can ask patients about exposure to loud noise and trouble hearing during routine exams. When patients show or report hearing problems, healthcare providers can make referrals to hearing specialists. And they can explain how noise exposure permanently damages hearing and counsel patients in how to protect their hearing.