Say what? Some hearing loss is preventable

Palomar Health Chief Audiologist Dr. David Illich has been a practicing audiologist for more than 30 years.
Palomar Health Chief Audiologist Dr. David Illich has been a practicing audiologist for more than 30 years.

ESCONDIDO – Hearing loss is something people might think of as being age related – and they’re right. But they might not be right in the way they think.

Palomar Health and Dr. David Illich, chief of audiology, are urging the community to be conscious of their hearing health during the month of October as part of National Audiology Awareness Month.

As people get older, their risk for hearing loss increases; nearly half of those older than age 75 have difficulty hearing. However, a growing number of youth have noise-induced hearing loss. The Journal of Pediatrics said that 12.5 percent of youth, ages 6 to 19, have permanent hearing loss.

The good news about noise-induced hearing loss is that it is preventable. Illich teaches his patients about the 60-60 rule.

“Never listen to earphones for more than 60 minutes at a time and never at more than 60 percent of the maximum device volume,” Illich said. He said listeners should rest their ears for at least 10 minutes before listening to their earphones again.

The increase in youth hearing loss is most likely attributed in part to technology. Teens can listen to hours of music, videos and movies on their personal devices without interruption. Previous generations had to swap cassette tapes and watch movies on television. Young people are also using earbuds instead of headphones more and more.

Illich said earbuds deliver sound directly into the ear canal without any buffer, which potentially damages the sensitive hair cells found in the inner ear. The hair cells convert the sounds heard into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, the hair cells cannot grow back, causing permanent hearing loss.

Research has shown that cheap earbuds are more dangerous than expensive earbuds because the listener has a tendency to turn the volume up to hear lower frequencies. Illich said here’s an excuse to spend a little more on earbuds, or better yet, to use the more bulky headphones that offer more buffering.

Whatever method is used, Illich recommended manually changing the settings in any electronic device to provide a maximum of 60 percent volume, so that listeners can’t accidently turn the music up too loud. They should also take frequent breaks between listening, following the 60-60 rule.

How can people know if they already have hearing loss? Illich said the only way to know for sure is to get a hearing test. Absent a hearing test, some signs of hearing loss include thinking a significant other mumbles too much or asking people to repeat themselves on the phone. Because hearing loss is usually gradual, people might not notice an incremental decrease in their hearing.

Hearing loss can adversely affect other parts of life. A recent study by the Lancet commission cited hearing loss as one of the nine risk factors for causing dementia. The study also said hearing impacts cognitive thinking, as well as others perceptions of a person’s capability and employability.

The key to maintaining good hearing health, in addition to observing the 60-60 rule, is to protect ears with earplugs when exposed to noisy environments such as concerts, sporting events, fireworks, power tools and even hair dryers. For a comparison, consider the decibels or the measure of the loudness of sound of some common environments.

Normal conversation is around 60 decibels. Hair dryers and lawnmowers are 90 dB, and concerts are around 110 dB. An MP3 player with the sound turned all the way up hits 120 dB and gun shots, depending on the gun, can range 140 dB to 175 dB.

For questions about hearing loss, consult an audiologist.

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