Hearing Loss is More Common Than You Know
Hearing loss affects far more people than you likely assume. You can’t see that someone has hearing loss just by looking at them. It is an invisible disability. And it is actually quite rare to be born with a congenital hearing condition. That happens in the U.S. less than three times out of every 1,000 births.
Hearing loss is a broad term referring to a wide spectrum of conditions spanning from the totally deaf to those that have certain frequencies muddled in certain situations. But almost 14% of the U.S. population, between 35-45 million Americans, endure some manner of hearing loss. The exact number is impossible to know for a myriad of reasons, but one major reason is that hearing loss usually comes on so incredibly gradually, that it is often impossible for someone to detect that it is happening to them. And this imperceptibly slow degradation is usually the result of habitual proximity to dangerous volumes.
Prevention Is Key
Same as every dimension of your health, intentionally forming healthy preventative habits is obviously the most impactful manner to combat it. Hearing loss is relatively simply manageable with proper treatment. It really shouldn’t impact your life any more than wearing glasses does. But remember that hearing loss is permanent and it is irreversible, so prevention and intervening at the earliest possible moment before the symptoms compound is imperative. Both of these depend on understanding the limits of permissible noise exposure in professional, recreational, and everyday environments.
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) has recommendations for workplace noise exposure that are also helpful rules of thumb outside the workplace as well.
Assuming someone spends an average of eight hours a day at work, NIOSH warns that continuous exposure to sounds that measure 85 decibels or above pose a risk. But this assumes that this worker’s time outside of work is all spent in quiet environments. Ongoing exposure to 85 decibels at your workplace means that the risks are profoundly increased if you spend any time outside of work in loud environments.
Decibels are measured logarithmically, meaning that the ratios between volume and exposure time are not always easy to follow. For example, a difference of 3 dB means doubling or halving acceptable exposure time. So if an environment measures 88 dB, the safe exposure time is halved, meaning four hours represents the same risk as eight hours spent near 85 dB. But if the environment is measured to be 82 dB, it would take 16 hours to match the same level of risk. But once we are talking about anything that measures 100 dB, any more than 15 minutes of exposure poses an extreme risk.
The industries that commonly pose the greatest risks, such as construction, factories, and airports, all have strict guidelines that must be followed. There are time limits to exposure. Protective gear must be worn, and the most aggravating sound sources are isolated as much as they can be.
Outside of The Workplace
But noise is everywhere and it is often beyond your control. Nightlife crowds in bars and restaurants, the roar of the crowd at sporting events and the blare of concerts, and even blasting movie theaters are all examples of common social activities that represent risks. You can’t control the mechanical cacophony of a construction site set up under a loudly rumbling train. And even if you stay at home alone, your earbuds and video games can also cause real harm. You adapt to your diminishing hearing and normalize louder volumes to create the same emotional impact.
Awareness of such risks and consciously creating intentional healthy habits is key.
Your Overall Health
Ignored or minimized, hearing loss will cause social withdrawal, isolation and depression. And together these lead to frustration and disorientation.
But that does not need to be the case. With proper awareness and action it is simple to live a completely fulfilled life, hardly impacted by your hearing loss. Learn every detail of the hearing health habits that relate to your lifestyle and vigilantly maintain them.
And you see your doctor for a physical each year and regularly visit your dentist, right? Why should a hearing exam be any different? It is the most accurate way to know the precise condition of your hearing so you can know what actions to take today to prolong and amplify your overall quality of life.