Aging has long been associated with hearing loss, and that association is not unwarranted. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders notes that age-related hearing loss can arise from changes in the inner ear as the body ages. However, hearing loss can affect people of all ages, including the very young.
Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, can affect people of all ages. In fact, a 2011-12 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as 40 million adults in the United States have some degree of hearing loss related to exposure to loud noise. Another study published in 2011 in the journal Pediatrics found that as many as 17 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 had features of their hearing suggestive of NIHL.
No single activity can explain the prevalence of NIHL among adolescents and adults under 70. However, amplified music is a leading cause. A 2020 study by the University of Manchester showed that young adults with high levels of recreational noise exposure (like concerts and clubs) had the poorest inner ear function, showing signs of early hearing damage. The risk varies depending on how loud the volume is and how close you are standing to the speakers.
While at shows, you can reduce your risk of NIHL by standing away from speakers, taking regular breaks from the noisiest environments, and wearing hearing protection. Today high-fidelity earplugs, which are designed to reduce volume while maintaining the integrity of music and speech sounds, are widely available.
Additionally, there are steps everyone can take to protect their hearing and reduce their risk for NIHL in daily life.
· Switch from earbuds to over-the-ear headphones. The Cleveland Clinic notes that over-the-ear headphones encase the ear and are often more effective at canceling outside noise. Why is that important? If outside noise is effectively canceled out, wearers won’t have to turn up the volume on their headphones in order to hear their music. Listening at lower volumes is a great way to protect your hearing and prevent NIHL.
· Recognize that others shouldn’t hear what’s coming through your headphones. Audiologist Sharon A. Sandridge, Ph.D. of the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic notes that if people standing at arm’s length can hear the music coming from an individual’s headphones or earbud, then the volume levels on that person’s devices are too loud.
· Purchase activity-specific headphones, earplugs or earmuffs. Hardware stores and sporting goods stores sell activity-specific headphones, earplugs and earmuffs that can be utilized when engaging in activities like yard work or hunting. Such products are often designed to block out noises from backpack leaf blowers and hunting rifles, and could therefore prove more protective of users’ hearing than over-the-ear headphones designed for listening to music.
Age-related hearing loss may not be preventable. However, individuals can protect themselves from NIHL, and efforts to do just that should begin at a young age and continue throughout adulthood, especially for live music fans with frequent exposure to amplified tunes.
A young music fan listens enjoys a concert while wearing hearing protection.