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Wondering if You Have a Hearing Problem: Signs, Symptoms and When to Get Checked


Hearing loss of varying degrees impacts one-quarter of Americans aged 65 to 75, and around three-quarters of those older than 75, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often, gradual hearing problems that occur with age are the result of chronic exposure to noise. Over time, this exposure can damage your inner ear, causing a hearing problem.

But aging is not the only cause of hearing problems, and you shouldn't expect to lose your hearing simply because you're getting older.

In fact, reports that an estimated 30 million Americans have a hearing loss greater than 25 dB, which is the definition of hearing impairment according to the World Health Organization. And many of these people are barely middle-aged.

According to a survey by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI):

  • 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6 percent, have a hearing problem, and most people with hearing loss are still in the workforce (younger than 65).

  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4 percent, already have hearing loss.

  • At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems.

Clearly there are numerous causes for hearing loss, and being aware of them will help you to keep your hearing well into old age.

Common Causes of Hearing Problems

You May Have a Hearing
Problem If ...

hearing problem

The symptoms of hearing loss are not always obvious. Here are some of the top signs from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Muffled quality of speech and other sounds

  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people

  • Asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly

  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio

  • Withdrawal from conversations

  • Avoidance of some social settings

According to BHI, the main causes of hearing loss are:

  1. Excessive noise (construction, rock music, gun shots, etc)

  2. Aging (presbycusis)

  3. Infections (otitis media)

  4. Injury to the head or ear

  5. Birth defects or genetics

  6. Ototoxic (damaging to the auditory system) reaction to drugs or cancer treatment (antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation)

But there are others as well, including:

  • Acoustic neuroma, a tumor that causes hearing loss.

  • Meniere's disease, which impacts the inner ear causing deafness, dizziness and ringing in the ears.

  • Otosclerosis, a middle ear disease.

  • Earwax blockage, which can cause partial hear loss, earache and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

Any type of difficulty hearing or change in your hearing warrants a trip to the doctor. There they can perform a screening test to find out how well you can hear and may refer you to an audiologist (a hearing specialist).

How to Protect Your Hearing

Because damage to your hearing often occurs gradually, you may not notice the changes until it's too late; once your ears are damaged from loud noises, there's no way to fix it.

loud noise

If you can't hear someone three feet away, the noise is loud enough to damage your hearing.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to make sure your ears are kept out of harm's way. BHI recommends:

  • Being aware of recreational activities that involve loud noises: video arcades, fire crackers, night clubs, music concerts, shooting a gun, movie theatres, sporting events, motor boards, motorcycles, snowmobiles, "boom cars."

  • If you work in an occupation at risk of hearing loss (firefighters, police officers, factory workers, farmers, construction workers, military personnel, heavy industry workers, musicians, entertainment industry professionals) check with your employer to make sure you have adequately protected your hearing according to OSHA regulations.

  • Limiting your exposure time to noisy activities.

  • Wearing hearing protection, such as foam or silicone plugs or muffs.

  • Turning down the volume on your television, radio, stereos and walkmans.

  • Wearing ear plugs or muffs when using loud equipment (i.e. lawn mowers, power saw, leaf blower).

  • Buying quieter products (compare dB ratings -- the smaller the better).

  • Reducing the number of noisy appliances running at the same time in your personal environment.

  • Avoiding medications that can be dangerous to your hearing.

Recommended Reading

LISTEN UP! Exposure to Loud Noise May Cause Tumor & Other Health Risks

The Federal Noise Laws: Yes There are Laws to Reduce Noise Pollution & Here are the Essentials


Better Hearing Institute Hearing Loss

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