According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 36 million American adults report some type of hearing loss. Of these, an estimated 26 million have high-frequency hearing loss caused by too much exposure to loud sound.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is usually painless, progressive, permanent, and completely preventable. NIHL happens when a person is exposed for too long to sound pressure levels of 85 decibels or more. And we’re not just talking about exposure to endless rock concerts or pneumatics drills. 85 decibels is roughly the sound of heavy city traffic. Prolonged exposure can result in damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear. The process is so gradual that people often do not realize they have a hearing loss until it affects the ability to carry on conversations in daily life.
With NIHL, softer high frequency sounds are difficult to hear, which means a person can hear what is said but they cannot understand what is said.
So how can people recognize if they have noise induced hearing loss?
“When a person frequently has trouble understanding conversations at holiday parties, family gatherings, and in noisy restaurants it might be a good time for a hearing test and ear examination,” says John House, MD, president of House Research Institute.
The holidays give family and friends the opportunity to notice a change in a loved one’s hearing as well. People with hearing loss may have trouble participating in conversations because they miss key words.
“We hear from our patients that they first noticed a change in their hearing several years before they finally come in to the Clinic to have their hearing checked,” said Dr. House. “Often it is a spouse or family member who urges a patient to get their hearing tested.”
There are some forms of hearing loss, which are not noise-induced, that can be treated with surgery. The sooner a hearing loss is identified, the sooner the patient can learn about the treatment options that may help.
So if you know someone who is having trouble hearing, maybe you can consider giving the gift of hearing this holiday season by encouraging them to schedule a hearing test.