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Common causes of hearing loss

By Diane Krieger Spivak

Hearing loss is a common occurrence among most people as they age.

Beginning at around age 30 or 40, hearing starts to worsen.  By age 80 more than half of adults in the U.S. experience serious hearing loss, according to, which adds that more than half of all hearing-impaired people are still of working age. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) usually occurs gradually and is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults.

Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally, says the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Because the loss is gradual you may not realize it.

Symptoms of hearing loss include problems hearing on the phone or when there is background noise, having trouble following a conversation with two or more people talking at the same time, straining to understand a conversation, feeling people are mumbling, misunderstanding what others are saying, often asking people to repeat themselves or turning up the TV volume too loud for others

Other common causes of hearing loss are working in a noisy environment or entertainment and sports venues such as rock concerts, night clubs or football games. The use of headphones and earbuds on mobile devices are also common causes, especially among younger people.

All of these expose people to excessive decibel (dB) levels, which can temporarily, or permanently, damage hearing.

Sensorineural hearing loss can result from high blood pressure or diabetes, and even measles, mumps or shingles can play a role, as can smoking and certain medications like some chemotherapy drugs.

Conductive hearing loss, typically caused by some obstructions in the ear, are commonly caused by infections, perforation, wax buildup and growths or tumors.

If you experience hearing loss, consult a hearing health professional.


Teenagers and Hearing Loss

earphonesHearing loss is the fastest growing health problems in the U.S. for young people. Why?  Because of the popularity of personal electronic devices that deliver loud sounds directly into the ear canals.

According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 12.5 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from hearing loss as a result of using ear phones/buds turned to a high volume. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that exposure to sounds at 85 decibels of volume can cause damage to your hearing in less than eight hours. Most MP3 players with earphones can reach 85 decibels of volume at only 70% of peak volume.  When played at full volume MP3 players can typically create 100 decibels or more of volume which can cause permanent hearing damage in less than 15 minutes of listening.

In addition, ear buds exacerbate the danger of loud sounds because they are typically pushed directly into the ear canal where the loud sounds are not buffered by air.  Without the resistance of air to reduce some of the energy of the sound waves, the loud sounds are more likely to cause damage to hearing.

Listening to loud music is not the only danger to hearing.  Even most adults don’t realize how loud and damaging sounds can be when played through earphones or earbuds.  This can be especially dangerous for anyone that uses earphones while operating loud equipment such as a lawn mower.  Lawn mowers typically run around 90 decibels of volume.  In order to hear your music or audio book or podcast, you may not realize that you’ve turned the volume to 95 decibels or more.

The good news is there are small adjustments teens and any of us can make to reduce the chance of a hearing loss. Some simple things include switching to headphones instead of earbuds, taking breaks and listening at lower volume levels. If others can hear the music, it’s too loud.  And, if you do work around loud equipment, protect your hearing with earplugs.


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