With the world becoming louder, many people are experiencing changes to their hearing earlier in life. In Australia, around one in six of the population have a hearing loss.
However, despite increasing incidence as people get older, age is not the greatest cause of hearing loss in Australia.
The single greatest cause of permanent hearing loss in Australia is prolonged exposure to loud noise, with men being far more likely to experience from this condition.
Baby boomers – those who born between 1946 and 1964, are most likely candidates for noise-induced hearing loss; much of this hearing may result from exposure to continuous loud noise over an extended period of time. Loud music, personal stereo systems, factory noise, home power tools, lawn mowers and the roar of construction sites can all be to blame.
Currently there are more people aged 45 to 64 with a hearing loss than those older than 65. Over the years before Occupational Health & Safety became such an important issue in the workplace, millions of Australians went to work in noisy factories, building sites and plants without being provided with adequate hearing protection.
All types of plant and machinery – as well as the high volume of noise in vehicles – can contribute towards hearing loss. Even exposure to very high levels of intermittent noise over relatively short periods can cause damage. For example, using heavy duty power or impact tools.
The surge in the use of iPods and MP3 players is also creating more instances of irreversible hearing damage and is especially prevalent amongst those who listen to music at high volumes. Extended exposure to sound in excess of 85 decibels can cause long term hearing loss. Recent surveys have shown that many people are listening to music at much higher levels, typically in excess of 115 decibels. This represents significant potential for causing damage in a matter of a few minutes with ongoing exposures potentially resulting in permanent hearing damage.
The sound in state-of-the-art cinemas has also become significantly louder – sometimes so loud it can be painful. The volume often peaks at 110 or 112 decibels for “noisy” movies, that’s the same as a jack hammer! At these levels, viewers could experience alterations to their hearing lasting from minutes to days.
Rock music concerts have also made a leap in volume over the past decades. Although levels are supposedly capped at about 95 decibels, they can typically exceed 120 decibels. British research shows up to 90 percent of people visiting clubs and bars experience the symptoms of noise damage the next day.
The reality is that prolonged exposure to noise seems to cause damage to the more sensitive cells in the cochlea within the ear, and this begins to affect the hearing of certain frequencies – particularly the higher frequency sounds.
Many people with this type of hearing loss find it really difficult to have conversations, and to hear clearly, in noisy environments. Often because the higher pitched consonants seem to be missing they may find it hard to discern one sound over a competing sound, so they are constantly straining to follow a conversation over all the background noise. There might also be a continuous or intermittent ringing in the ears.
Here’s a frightening statistic, projections from the United States and Australia indicate that one in every four people is likely to experience hearing loss by 2050.
MTV.com, in conjunction with the prestigious Vanderbilt Medical Center in the US, recently published a joint study that showed long-term exposure to loud music causes hearing loss. Roland Eavey, M.D. of Vanderbilt Medical Center summarised the results as “Hearing loss is so prevalent that it has become the norm”.
Despite this being a serious health issue which can affect physical and emotional well-being, many people do not seek help for their problems. The majority take many years before they actually take the first step to have their hearing tested, and by that time, the damage to their hearing is more difficult to address.
A clinical hearing test is the best way to determine whether exposure to noise has resulted in hearing loss. For more information and make a hearing test at no cost*, simply click here or call us on 1800 340 631. We can also give you guidance about how to reduce your noise exposure and limit your risk of future hearing loss