Scientists believe 20-somethings with hearing aids will soon become more common.
When you think of severe hearing loss, thoughts of elderly people may come to mind. But all age groups have seen a recent rise in hearing loss during the last few years. Increased hearing loss among all ages further demonstrates that hearing loss isn’t an “aging problem,” but a growing epidemic.
Researchers predict within the next 40 years, hearing loss rates will double among adults 20 and older. The healthcare community views this as a serious public health issue. According to John Hopkins medical researchers, one in five Americans are currently experiencing hearing loss so severe it makes communication difficult.
Let’s look a why experts are so concerned and what’s contributing to an increase in hearing loss among all age groups.
Hearing loss can cause additional health problems
Profound hearing loss is a terrible thing to experience – everyday communication becomes challenging, frustrating, and exhausting. It can cause people to stop doing what they enjoy and withdraw from friends and family. If you don’t get help, it’s nearly impossible to be active while experiencing significant hearing loss.
Those with untreated hearing loss suffer from more than diminished hearing. They’re much more likely to develop:
- Cognitive decline
- Injuries from repeated falls
- Other serious health conditions
They’re also more likely to have difficulties with their personal relationships, and may have trouble getting basic needs met.
In addition to the impact on their personal lives, individuals experiencing hearing loss may face increased:
- Healthcare costs
- Disability rates
- Insurance rates
- Accident rates
- Needs for public assistance
These factors indicate hearing loss is a major challenge we need to combat as a society.
What’s contributing to increased hearing loss across multiple generations
There are several factors contributing to the recent rise in hearing loss among all Americans. One factor is the increased prevalence of common diseases which can cause hearing loss, including:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Anxiety and unmanaged stress
- Poor diet and a lack of regular exercise
More people are suffering from these and related conditions at earlier ages, which contributes to further hearing loss.
Lifestyle also plays an important role in the increased prevalence of hearing loss. Exposure to loud noises is more common, particularly in recreation areas and work environments. Modern technology is often loud, and we’re being exposed to loud music and other sounds in more places. It’s often the younger age groups who have the highest level of noise exposure in:
- Shooting ranges
- Bars, clubs, and concerts
Additionally, many people are choosing to wear earbuds and turn their music up to harmful volumes. Furthermore, a greater number of people are now using painkillers, either to treat chronic pain or recreationally. Long-term, frequent use of opiates, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin have also been linked to an increased risk of hearing loss.
How is society responding to hearing loss as a health issue?
Local, national, and world organizations have taken notice. They’re working to stop this upward trend by educating the public.
Organizations like Helping Me Hear are spreading the word about hearing loss:
- Risk factors
- Treatment options
Helping Me Hear encourages individuals to:
- Get their hearing tested earlier in their lives
- Know their level of hearing loss risk
- Wear their hearing aids
Any delays in these actions make the impact of hearing loss much worse.
Researchers, healthcare providers, and government organizations are looking for solutions. They’re also seeking ways to bring hearing-loss related costs down. This will help increase accessibility to advanced hearing technologies that significantly improve lives.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with scientists and organizations to develop comprehensive strategies. They are combining awareness, education, and health services to reduce the risk of hearing loss among underserved groups.
Among their contributions, they’ve developed research-based guidelines for communities, which help local leaders understand the health impacts of noise. They explain what safe noise exposure is, and work with communities to reduce noise exposure for residents. In addition, they are furthering research on how opiate use and abuse can increase the risk of hearing loss.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs is funding hearing loss studies and prevention initiatives, as well. They seek to address hearing loss among a particularly high-risk group – members of our country’s armed forces.
What you can do
Stay informed about this developing public health issue. Take steps to slow the progression of your own hearing loss and share helpful information with others.
Get your own hearing tested if you believe you are suffering from hearing loss. If you find you need hearing aids, be sure to wear them.
The ultimate goal is to prevent all hearing loss. When you wear your hearing aids, you help people realize they’re not alone. You’re bringing awareness about the issue of hearing loss in your community. This awareness has the power to change attitudes, policies, and actions.