Hearing loss can be caused by a number of different factors, but the two most prevalent causes are age and prolonged exposure to loud noise. An estimated 37% of Australians¹ and 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69² have hearing loss as a result of heavy noise exposure. Loud noise damages the sensitive hair cells in the cochlea. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently and irreversible hearing loss occurs.
The other major cause of hearing loss is the natural ageing process. It is the third most common medical problem in older Americans.³ Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually over time. Various changes in the inner ear can cause the condition, such as changes in the structures of the inner ear, impairment in the nerves responsible for hearing, and changes in the way that the brain processes speech and sound. Diabetes, poor circulation and smoking also contribute to age-related hearing loss.
Read more: Different causes of hearing loss
So what CAN we do? We can’t very well not age, can we? No matter how much we’d like to.
But by being mindful of the noise levels around you and taking simple precautions, we can prevent and limit hearing loss throughout our lifetime.
Hearing loss prevention tips
- Wear ear plugs at very noisy places such as construction sites, nightclubs and rock concerts
- Limit the time you spend in very noisy places, and give your hearing a rest with regular breaks in quieter areas
- Listen to music at a moderate volume, and resist turning up the level to drown out background noise
- Where possible, avoid sudden, very intense sounds such as gunshots, as these can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss
- Download a smartphone app, like Too Loud, that shows you the noise levels in your environment and warns you if you should be wearing earplugs
- Be aware your risk of hearing loss increases if you are occupationally exposed to solvents or toxins or if you are taking certain drugs
Test your hearing with the free Play It Down app for iPhone and iPod!
1. Access Economics: Listen Hear! The economic impact and cost of hearing loss in Australia, February 2006
2. National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/Pages/quick.aspx [cited 2014 Oct 1]
3. University of California, San Francisco. Facts on Hearing Loss. Available from http://neurosurgery.ucsf.edu/index.php/brain_tumor_center_hearing_loss.html [cited 2014 Oct 1]