By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Hearing is one of the five senses. It is a complex process of picking up sounds, processing it and attaching it to meaning. The ability to hear is critical to understanding the world around us and connecting us to loved ones and colleagues.
Approximately 20% of Americans — around 48 million Americans of all ages — have some degree of hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, hearing loss occurs in five out of every 1,000 newborns each year in the United States.
“Hearing is one of two senses that keeps us in contact with our environment. The other is vision,” said audiologist Doug Brown, who practices at dB Audiology Associates P.C. in Syracuse.
Just because you’re born with good hearing does not mean you won’t eventually develop hearing issues.
Brown offers five important facts to educate and help people conserve their hearing.
1. Hearing can be damaged by multiple daily activities
Hearing can be damaged by loud noises. Our day-to-day activities could accelerate our hearing issues. Many people turn their headphones to maximum volume so they won’t hear any outside noise. Volume level and length of listening are the two things that need to be balanced to prevent noise-induced hearing damage from headphones or earbuds.
“Hearing can be damaged by many recreational activities. Snowmobiles, race cars, motorcycles, music, power boats and firearms all contribute to permanent hearing changes if precautions are not taken to protect it,” said Brown.
People can listen to 85 decibels of music for six hours without damage to their hearing. Despite 85 decibels being high enough, many young people reach higher than that. Anything higher than 85 decibels is immensely damaging.
Normal conversation is about 60 decibels while a noise from lawn mower is about 90 decibles.
Brown suggests a few precautions, including wearing earplugs when exposed to loud noises, getting yearly hearing exams, avoiding loud noises and avoiding listening to headphones louder than 60% volume.
2. Most hearing loss happens over time
Hearing loss damage occurs overtime because people don’t take proper precautions and avoid scheduling annual hearing exams. Hearing screening is a test to tell if people might have hearing loss. The tests are both easy and painless. Audiologists suggest that people receive regular screenings to check if their hearing is normal or near normal.
“Hearing changes are gradual generally and may not be noticed for years until discerning words becomes prominent,” said Brown.
3. Keep a close eye on your hearing
Hearing can change in a matter of seconds. Some may not notice until it’s too late. Some of the signs and symptoms of hearing loss include muffling of speech and other sounds, difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd. In addition, trouble hearing consonants, frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly, and needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio.
“If you experience a sudden change of hearing, it should be evaluated immediately. It is considered an emergency situation,” said Brown.
4. Hearing loss is not reversible
Hearing loss is a decrease in the ability to perceive sounds. It can be partial or total, sudden or gradual, temporary or permanent. It can affect one ear or both. In general, the risk of hearing loss increases with age.
Some people experience more severe loss than others, and traditional treatment involves devices such as hearing aids. The effectiveness of these depends on the individual.
“Hearing cannot be turned off. You can close your eyes to not see, but there is no body part that creates an ‘ear lid’.”
5. Hearing aids have evolved
In the 21st century, there have been significant advances in hearing aid manufacturers. They have made improvements by developing hearing aids that are more effective for various types of hearing loss. That includes those specifically made for high frequency hearing loss, along with better feedback management, noise reduction, rechargeable batteries and connectivity to Bluetooth technology. Digital hearing aids can help convert incoming sounds so that it can be amplified to an individual’s specific needs. They also analyze the listening environment every couple of milliseconds to determine if noise reduction assistance is needed.
“There are many options available to both enhance and conserve hearing for most activities. They provide assistance to those who are experiencing hearing problems,” he added.