Your boss made an off-handed comment about how loud your car radio was when you pull into work. Your windows weren’t even open…
You’ve started to notice that your spouse or children mumble a lot. Your sister insists she told you the birthday party started at 7:00. You heard 7:30. You just should have written it down.
People are always commenting about how loud you like the TV or music.
This has been going on for a decade or more. But it’s getting worse lately. Surely it’s not hearing loss. That’s reserved for people 20-30 years older than you.
Have you failed to get a hearing test because you can’t imagine it’s that bad yet? If you’re even asking if you need to worry about hearing loss again, it’s time to get tested. Here’s why!
Hearing Loss Isn’t an “Aging Problem”
The prevalent idea that aging causes hearing loss is entirely false. Hearing loss is 100% preventable. Numerous studies demonstrate that the primary cause of sensorineural hearing loss, the kind we associate with age, is noise among other factors.
Most Hearing Loss Damage Happens Young
2% of newborns already have less than perfect hearing. By the teen years, this rate jumps to 12%.
Men in their 30’s are 1/3 more likely than women to start having hearing loss. This isn’t because they’re aging faster.
In the 40’s hearing loss balances out again between men and women. Around 31% of people start to lose their hearing at this time.
Only around 13% of people first begin having hearing loss symptoms in their 60’s and 12% in the 70’s. For the vast majority of people, by then, sadly they’ve already been living with hearing loss for years.
What Science Says About the Cause of Hearing Loss
Let’s look at behaviors that increase your risk of getting hearing loss earlier in life.
Excessive Noise Exposure
If you’ve been exposed to a very loud noise like a firecracker, blasting, gunshot or very close lightning you may have suffered immediate and permanent hearing loss. If you’ve been exposed to mid-range loud sounds over a period of time, your hearing loss may have progressed slowly until it has become more noticeable.
Some common mid-range loud sounds that can damage with prolonged exposure include:
- Manufacturing, warehouse, farming, landscaping machinery even if it’s happening outside your office
- Wearing headphones too loud and earbuds are even worse.
- Construction or road work, even if it’s just on your morning commute
- A good night out at a bar, night club or concert
As few as 15 minutes exposed to certain sounds can cause permanent disabling hearing impairment. Your ears don’t care how old they are. It’s the amount of damage they incurred.
If you work every day exposed to these kinds of sounds, wear ear protection to prevent further damage.
Noise is a huge risk factor, but other behaviors can contribute.
A comprehensive 30-year study found that habitual use of painkillers can increase a man’s risk of hearing loss by as much as 61%. We’re not talking about opiates here. Those do carry hearing loss risks as well. But this study tested more common everyday painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen. You probably know these by their brand names.
Most strikingly, they found that men under 50 were twice as likely to have hearing loss if they used acetaminophen.
The study showed that taking a very low dose regularly is worse than taking a higher dose on occasion. If you have chronic pain, talk to your doctor about better long-term treatment options.
Did you eat your vegetables when you were a kid? You’re less likely to get hearing loss early. A Johns Hopkins study found that malnourished children as twice as likely to develop hearing loss in their 20’s.
Note that even if you weren’t underweight as a child, you could still be malnourished. It’s about how healthy the foods you eat are, not just how much you ate.
Other studies have shown that eating healthy levels of Omega 3 fats, Folate, Vitamin C and Vitamin A throughout your life can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss.
Exercise and Weight Management
Exercise increases blood flow efficiency. This makes it easier for the body to get nutrients and oxygen where you need it. It keeps blood pressure and diabetes risk low, which the lowers risk of hearing loss.
Another 30-year study of over 60 thousand women looked at the role of exercise in preventing hearing loss.
It found a direct positive correlation between waist size and hearing loss. That means the larger the waist, the more likelihood of having hearing loss. It also found that those who exercised regularly had a reduced chance of hearing loss. Women who did as little as walk 2 hours a week had a 17% reduced risk.
Another study found that obese children are twice as likely to develop single ear hearing loss during childhood.
It’s never too early to get your hearing tested. Find out where you stand. Learn about hearing solutions that will help you stay happier, healthier and more active longer.