Hearing loss taking toll on today’s youth

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According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, almost twice as many people suffer from hearing loss than from diabetes and cancer. (Courtesy Eric Allix Rogers)
According to the CDC, roughly 40 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69 have noise-induced hearing loss. (Courtesy Eric Allix Rogers)

So much about aging is reversible.

For wrinkles, there’s Botox. For vision loss, there’s laser eye surgery or corrective lenses. And for worn-out hips and knees, there’s replacement surgery.

But when it comes to hearing, there’s no prescription or procedure to restore what you had when you were young.

Which means people who regularly come into contact with loud noise, from earbud users and hunters to members of the military, are at risk, not just those of advanced age. Prevention should start from an early age, decades before the first signs of hearing trouble might show up.

“It’s good to get into the habit when you’re young,” said Eric Hecker, an audiologist with offices in Williamsburg and Newport News. “You should protect [your hearing] from when you’re a teenager.”

If a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control is any indication, however, many Americans are not getting the message.

According to the CDC, roughly 40 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69 have noise-induced hearing loss. More than half of adults with hearing loss don’t work in noisy locations. And 24 percent of adults – almost one in four — who think their hearing is excellent have already suffered some hearing loss.

Not being able to hear well is a public health problem, not just a potential source of frustration or even embarrassment. Hearing loss is the ranked the third most prevalent chronic health issue in the U.S., according to the CDC, yet people often don’t realize they have a problem or they delay seeking help when they do, because they don’t want to admit it.

“The louder a sound is, and the longer you are exposed to it, the more likely it will damage your hearing,” the report said. “The more often you are exposed to loud sounds over time, the more damage occurs.”

Still, there are things you can do to minimize some of the adverse effects.

A hearing aid can help people hear better, according to Hecker.

“But it’s not a cure,” he said. “You can’t actually replace what’s gone.”

Couples can also practice good communication habits. They should speak only when they’re in the same room and facing each other, he said.

There are other ways to protect your hearing, according to the CDC.

When possible, avoid places that are noisy. Sustained exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent damage. That means damage can come from 14 minutes at a 100-decibel sporting event or two minutes at a 110-decibel rock concert.

If you’re exposed to loud noises, such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers, wear protective earmuffs, ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones,

If you’re watching TV or listening to music with earbuds, keep the volume down.

Talk to your doctor about how to protect your hearing and whether you need a hearing checkup.

“There’s no magic pill,” Hecker said.

Read more stories about health and wellness in WYDaily’s Health Section