Humans are living longer than ever due to advances in vaccines, better living conditions, better nutrition, and advances in medical care. Most Americans take some kind of action in their daily lives to preserve their health and prevent illness in the future, such as eating a balanced meal, making exercise a daily or weekly routine, avoiding smoking or using chemicals that could cause cancer, and taking medications to prevent serious illness. What if one of the easiest methods of preventative care was to be mindful of the noise that surrounds you?
Noise, Hearing, and Overall Health
Many people, particularly young adults and teenagers, live in a state of constant noise. Just last week I was in a grocery store and needed assistance from two young employees who wore earbuds strung down to a phone in their apron while they worked and assisted customers. We’ve almost made it a habit to have noise channeled directly into our ears from waking until sleeping; and for some, even during sleep! Having personal audio may be a comfort to those who are constantly connected, but it may also turn out to be a detriment to their health and even cause them to be completely disconnected from music, friends, family, and hobbies in later life due to noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus (constant ringing in your ears). Noise induced hearing loss happens when a loud or prolonged noise damages the fragile hair cells in the inner-ear, making them unable to create electrical signals to carry information to our brains. Hair cells do not repair themselves or grow back, so once they are damaged, they are gone for good.
Our fragile ears matter! Hearing health is linked to our overall health in so many important ways. Hearing helps “exercise” our brains since birth. We learn thousands of sounds that are housed in our memory banks, and we can tune in the ones we want to focus on while tuning out all others. If we stop hearing everyday sounds, our brain begins to forget the sounds. When that section of our brain goes unused, we start to lose the tissue of the unused portion and creating the first link to cognitive decline and dementia.1
Other health risks when living with untreated hearing loss include being twice as likely to experience accidental injury2, increased balance issues3, increased risk of feeling socially isolated and depressed4, having a 46% increase in healthcare costs over ten years5, and many more consequences that are listed here.
Noise Induce Hearing Loss is 100% Preventable!
I have a friend who joked with me about being in his early 30s and not being able to hear much, especially due to annoying and constant tinnitus. When I got in his car for the first time, I realized the possible culprit. He had outfitted his exhaust pipe to amplify the sound of his Jeep. As we drove, even at a slower pace through neighborhoods without music, I measured the decibel level on my phone and found that sound within the car reached 87 decibels during acceleration. Long or repeated exposer to noise 85 decibels and above causes hearing damage! I urged him to rethink his choice of car accessories and send his car to the mechanic pronto… Being “fashionable” is just not worth this permanent cost.
Unfortunately for him, he may have to live with his tinnitus for life, although many new hearing aids offer relief with built-in tinnitus maskers (learn more about tinnitus management here). He’s not alone. Alarming rates of millennials (adults aged 25-39) already have hearing loss, perhaps from the use of personal audio devices as stated above. Currently, around 1 out of every 14 millennials have hearing loss, but this number is rapidly increasing. The one point to highlight in this article is that noise induced hearing loss in completely preventable.
By lowering the volume on your phone or audio device, using hearing protection at concerts and in noisy environments, limiting exposure at loud restaurants or events, and giving yourself breaks from audio throughout the day, you can save yourself from many serious health issues – and the cost of treatment and increased healthcare – of hearing loss down the road. There are several apps that can measure decibel levels of your environment, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Sound Level Meter App.
If you have concerns about your hearing health or have a loved one at risk of noise induced hearing loss, please visit a nearby hearing health professional to ask questions and receive a hearing test.
Watch the Hear Well. Stay Vital. "Turn Down The Noise" PSA here
5 Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated With Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years.” Nicholas S. Reed, Aylin Altan, Jennifer A. Deal, Charlotte Yeh, Alexander D. Kravetz, Margaret Wallhagen, Frank R. Lin JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Jan; 145(1): 27–34. Published online 2018 Nov 8. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2018.2875, PMCID: PMC6439810.