Over 36 million Americans face high hearing aid costs, and the problem is likely to get worse in coming years. Hearing aid prices continue to rise, and the incidence of hearing loss is steadily increasing.
There are a couple broad reasons for this trend. First, the population is aging. Around half of Americans with hearing loss are 60 or younger – but it's still true that all else equal, an aging population will suffer a greater degree of loss. This age-related degradation is called presbycusis, and its incidence increases with age.
Second, hearing loss is becoming more prevalent within each individual age range. The leading cause of preventable hearing loss is prolonged exposure to loud noises. The ubiquity of iPods and in-ear headphones means that large portions of the population listen to volumes of 100 dB for prolonged periods of time. As the “iPod generation” ages, all expectations are that it will suffer greater hearing loss, at younger ages, than generations before them. But of course, iPods are not just for young people, and older generations are at just as much risk.
Genetics play a role – age-related hearing presbycus tends to run in families. But many other common causes are avoidable. Here are a few tips for avoiding preventable causes of hearing loss:
- Stop smoking. In addition to facing numerous other health problems, smokers are more likely to develop hearing loss
- Get your hearing tested. Periodic hearing tests are the only way to measure changes in hearing ability over time.
- Keep music at a moderate volume. A good rule of thumb is that you should still be able to hear someone talking from a few feet away. This is especially important as iPods and other MP3 players can produce sounds up to 100dB, which can cause damage over extended listening periods.
- Invest in sound-isolating or noise-cancelling headphones. A common issue is that headphone listeners turn up the volume in noisy environments to achieve the same “effective volume” and drown out background noise – but this is hard on your ears! Using noise cancelling headphones that block out ambient noise, rather than simply increasing the volume of your music, lowers your absolute noise exposure.
- Avoid loud noises. Jackhammers, lawnmowers, etc. can be damaging to your ears, especially with repeated exposure. A rule of thumb supported by OSHA is that sounds over 85dB should be avoided.
- Give your ears a rest. Listening to your iPod at 90dB for a few minutes may be fine, but hours on end is likely to cause damage over long periods of time
- Respect your genes. You can not do much to alter your genetic tendency for hearing loss – but if you it runs in the family, you may benefit from taking extra precautions to protect your hearing
- Consider Hearing Aids. While hearing aids can not prevent hearing loss, they can measurably improve quality of life.