The number of Americans with a hearing loss has doubled in the past 30 years, with 10 percent of the U.S. population and 30 percent of adults aged 65-75 year reporting a hearing difficulty. In honor of Save Your Hearing Day on May 31st, read up on a few surprising causes that contribute to that number.
You can probably already guess that a loud rock concert can cause hearing loss. But music listened through headphones can be just as harmful. A study by by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association found that in users of portable music devices, 35 percent of adults and up to 59 percent of teenagers reported listening at loud volumes—around 110-120 decibels, which, according to an audiologist at Wichita State University, can cause permanent hearing loss after just an hour and 15 minutes. Want to keep it down? The American Auditory Society recommends not listening for more than an hour at a time at 60 percent of the maximum volume. In-ear earbuds can also impede the extrusion of ear wax from your ears, so stick to over-the-ear styles.
In research presented at American Thoracic Society’s 2014 International Conference, people with sleep apnea had a 31 percent increased risk of high frequency hearing impairment, a 90 percent increased risk of low frequency hearing impairment and a 38 percent increased risk in combined high and low frequency hearing impairment. Lead author Dr. Amit Chopra said in a statement that “Potential pathways linking sleep apnea and hearing impairment may include adverse effects of sleep apnea on vascular supply to the cochlea [part of the inner ear] via inflammation and vascular remodeling or noise trauma from snoring.”
People with diabetes have a significantly higher prevalence of hearing impairment than those without diabetes, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. According to the study’s lead author, this could be because “high blood glucose levels can damage vessels in the stria vascularis and nerves diminishing the ability to hear.” If you have diabetes, consider talking to your doctor about setting up regular screenings for hearing impairment.
Ibuprofen & Acetaminophen
A study of 60,000 women published in the American Journal of Advanced Epidemiology found that nearly 25 percent of women who took ibuprofen six or more days a week reported decreases in hearing. Even those who only took ibuprofen two or three days a week were 13 percent more likely to experience hearing loss. In acetaminophen users, 21 percent who took acetaminophen six or more days a week experienced loss, along with 11 percent of women who took it just a few days a week. Lead study author Sharon G. Curhan, MD explained that “NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen can reduce blood flow to the cochlea, which could impair its function.” Acetaminophen could also deplete structures in the ear that protect the cochlea, she says.
You don’t need us to tell you that your neighbor’s lawnmower is loud. But did you know that it’s dangerous to your hearing too? When you’re working on your own lawn with equipment like lawnmowers, power edgers, and chain saws, make sure you’re wearing earplugs—just 15 minutes of exposure to the noise can start to permanently damage hearing.
Excess earwax is the most common cause of partial hearing loss, affecting 10 percent of children, five percent of healthy adults, and up to 57 percent of older patients in nursing homes, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Luckily, it’s also the most treatable. Just make sure you’re going to a doctor if your earwax is causing discomfort—poking around in there with Q-tips can have the opposite of the intending effect, packing the earwax down even more.
Lighting up doesn’t just affect your lungs. In one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, heavy smokers were found to be 1.3 times more likely to have hearing loss across all age groups except the oldest. Even non-smokers who lived with smokers were more susceptible to hearing problems than non-smokers not living with smokers. This could be because of smoking’s effects on the vasculature supplying the auditory system.