When you’re in your 20s or 30s hearing loss feels like a far away concern. It’s a problem for your future self to contend with, when you’re older, greyer, retired…
The problem with relegating hearing loss to the misty realms of the future is that, when you get there, your future self is likely to kick you for failing to take action that could have stopped the problem ever happening.
But hearing loss is far more relevant to your present self than you might think. Studies have shown that around one-fifth of twenty-somethings display signs of having Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, or NIHL.
In fact, 32% of hearing loss in men begins between the age of 20 and 39. That’s almost twice the number of women in the same age bracket.
Astonishing as it might seem to think you might face hearing loss in your 20s, what’s more remarkable is how preventable it is if you establish a few good habits...
The world is full of sound, from noise in the workplace to the radio and television, passing traffic, and even household appliances. A lot of it is ambient background noise that we don’t pay attention to until it gets loud enough to annoy us.
The majority of sound isn’t that loud and doesn't damage our hearing. But some sounds do harm without us even noticing, and despite only lasting a short time. Since the human ear has delicate inner structures that can be damaged by loud noises, the sounds surrounding us can actually cause NIHL.
Unlike the hearing loss that comes with advancing years and the natural ageing of our hearing structures, NIHL can occur at any time in life, might be immediate or unnoticeable for some time, and can be both temporary or permanent. It can also affect one or both ears, and you may not be able to tell you’re damaging your hearing while it’s happening.
The first you know about it is likely to be when you struggle to hear the conversation while you're out, or never seem to hear the phone ring if it’s in the next room.
With 1 in 5 young adults in their 20s exhibiting signs of NIHL, and around 15% of adults in America noticing some degree of hearing loss, it’s a very real concern. Fortunately, NIHL is entirely preventable, as it has an environmental cause you can avoid.
While a lot of these sounds are related to the workplace, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re safe if you’re not in an industrial job, it’s not truly the case. In fact, almost 50% of adults with NIHL didn’t encounter harmful sounds at work.
Everyday activities like going to sports matches, mowing the lawn, or watching your favorite band in concert can be just as damaging to your hearing as loud noises that happen at work. The louder the noise and longer the exposure, the more likely it will cause harm.
Arguably the most dangerous causes of hearing loss are unexpected sources. More people use earbuds than ever before to listen to music, often turning the volume up high to drown out other sounds without realizing they are causing damage. Other unexpected but common and potentially serious sources of hearing loss are balloons popping, the cumulative sound of a noisy restaurant, and sirens from emergency vehicles.
Once you understand how hazardous loud noises can be, and the threat they pose to your hearing (despite your youthful exuberance), getting into the habit of a few simple precautions can genuinely save your hearing. Here's what you can do: