to "New to Hearing Loss"
article was originally published in the Hopkins Insider.
by John K.
Niparko, M.D - Professor of Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) and
Director of Otology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
hearing aid-wearing President Clinton, the first generation to be raised
on rock-n-roll is facing more hearing loss than its parents.
Clinton was 46 when he entered the White House as the second youngest
U.S. president in history. Five years later, he was wearing hearing aids
in both ears at least occasionally. For instance, when he had to mingle
in large crowds. He isn't alone. Although hearing loss is thought of as
a condition that typically strikes seniors, more Americans are
experiencing difficulties with hearing loss at an earlier age. Last
year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association
reported that nearly 15 percent of school-aged children had hearing
deficits at low or high frequencies.
the most noticeable segment of the population to report difficulties in
hearing, sensitivity to loud sounds and/or an incessant buzzing --
typical symptoms of hearing loss -- are so-called "baby
boomers" in their 40s and 50s.
to 1990, hearing problems among those between ages 45 and 64 jumped 26
percent, according to the National Health Interview Survey. There was
also a 17 percent increase in the 18 to 44 age group. In California,
where researchers surveyed 5,000 people, the rate of impairment jumped
150 percent between 1965 and 1994 among those in their 50s. It's easy to
understand why: They and other baby boomers, after all, are the first
generation to be born and raised on rock music, gas-powered lawn mowers,
traffic gridlock and other everyday threats to our hearing.
loud noise doesn't cause pain until the sound reaches high decibels,
people generally don't recognize noise as damaging until after the fact.
If the ears hurt or bled when noise rose above a safe level, everyone
would be more cognizant of the threat. But it doesn't take much to start
a gradual damaging effect that can lead to partial or total hearing
loss. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, being
regularly exposed to sound levels above 70 decibels -- roughly the level
of using a hair dryer, vacuum cleaner or gas lawn mower -- can begin to
lose their hearing slowly -- over a 15- to 20-year period -- because
regular and repeated noise exposure damages the wonderfully complicated
and intricate hair cells of the inner ear that interpret sound
vibrations as words, music or other sounds. Unlike the hairs on top of
your head, which can be sheared off and grown back, hair cells can't
grow back because they are such highly developed, end-stage cells. Men
are more likely to start being hearing impaired about a decade before
women, since they have commonly held more industrial and transportation
jobs, which produce consistently high noise levels. Hearing loss is not
just the inability to sense sound. Impaired pitch resolution, for
example, means the ear doesn't sort out complex sounds in speech, so the
brain receives a sort of mishmash. For instance, people say they can
hear but can't discriminate what is being said. Typically, the first to
be affected are high tones, which include many of the most common sounds
in spoken English -- including those produced by the lips and teeth,
such as p, s, f, t and d, and sh, ch, h and soft c. This is one reason
why hearing loss can be so frustrating. Because you're losing parts of
words, hearing a sentence can look like this: "Can you un er an i e
e e wi ou e igh one?" (Can you understand this sentence without the
high tones?) Mid tones, created with the tongue and base of the throat
-- including sounds such as ka, la, rr -- typically drop off next. This
is why you'll hear a lot of people say they can't hear someone, but when
the speaker increases volume, the person with the hearing problem says,
"Don't shout at me." What they need is to have soft sounds
boosted and loud sounds muffled.
More on this and related
What to Do
early noise exposure is reflected in hearing loss later in life,
preventing damage in the first place is the wisest thing to do. Remove
yourself from excessive noise. It may sound obvious, but it's usually
not practiced. Advice: An environment is too loud if you have to shout
to be heard.
earplugs when you must work around loud noise, such as operating a lawn
mower. To be effective, earplugs must block the ear canal, creating an
airtight seal. They come in different sizes and are typically made of
foam that expands to create the seal. Earmuffs cover the entire outside
of the ear and are also helpful. However, cotton is worthless for
keeping noise out.
personal headsets responsibly. If someone standing near you can hear the
music from your headset, it's too loud.
to "New to Hearing Loss"