Hearing loss is the second most common impairment in the world, with over 466 million individuals affected across the globe. As a result, it’s logical (and rational) for you to spend some time managing your risks for developing hearing loss.
There are some circumstances that will increase your chances of developing a hearing impairment. Some of those risk factors are things you can control; some of them are not. So, it’s worth thinking about who is most at risk for hearing loss, and how you might be able to help mitigate some of those risks.
Multiple causes of hearing loss
When assessing risk for hearing loss, it’s absolutely vital to remember the natural variability inherent with this particular ailment. Hearing loss could be caused by noise damage, by ear infections, by genetic predisposition, and so on. The causes–and, thus, the types of hearing loss–vary wildly. Risk management strategies will vary depending on the type of hearing loss you may be most concerned about.
The most common causes of hearing loss include:
- Infections or obstructions: A simple ear infection or compacted earwax can cause temporary hearing loss. Usually, hearing returns once the root infection or obstruction is properly treated.
- Noise damage: Over time, loud noises can cause significant and permanent damage to the ears. Usually, small hair cells called stereocilia–your ear’s primary sensor for sound–are most impacted. Once stereocilia are compromised, the damage is permanent. And the more of these tiny hairs that absorb damage, the more severe your hearing loss will be.
- Trauma: Hearing impairments can be caused by various trauma to the ear (or to the brain). For example, a traumatic brain injury could cause your tinnitus, or a ruptured eardrum could create hearing complications. Obviously, you’ll want to do everything possible to protect yourself from injury and trauma.
- Age: There’s also some evidence to suggest that, over time, normal aging processes can cause certain forms of hearing loss. It’s difficult to know how much hearing loss is attributable to the aging process and just how much is due to use (or overuse).
Any combination of these factors can contribute to the development of hearing loss. So any risk assessment will need to take those variables (and more) into account.
So who’s at risk for hearing loss?
Everyone has at least some risk of developing hearing loss. However, those who have a particularly pronounced risk may include:
- People with certain hereditary or genetic conditions: Some individuals are genetically predisposed towards hearing loss. Genetic factors are often responsible for hearing loss in children and infants, for example. But it’s also likely that adults who are particularly sensitive to noise damage may have a genetic predisposition to contend with.
- Those who work in noisy environments: If your livelihood depends on being in a loud situation all day, every day, you’re going to be at an increased risk of hearing loss. Common examples could include manufacturing workers, of course, but also workers in restaurant or entertainment settings.
- Anyone who spends leisure time in noisy environments: Likewise, if you spend the majority of your leisure time around damaging noise, you could be at high risk of hearing loss. For example, if you go to concerts often or if you frequently listen to your headphones at high volume, you could be increasing your risk for hearing damage.
- Those taking certain medications: Some medications are known at “ototoxic”–in other words, they can damage your hearing. Most doctors are aware of these particular side effects, so they can help you balance benefits and drawbacks.
We all share the risks
To a certain extent, we’re all at risk for hearing disabilities. The only ways you can mitigate those risks are to ensure you’re protecting your hearing and that you’re undergoing regular hearing screenings (so you can treat any damage right away).
Those who do present a higher risk for hearing loss won’t necessarily have to do more to protect their hearing–but they will have to be more vigilant. If you work in a noisy factory, make sure you wear hearing protection every day. If you go to concerts, make sure you wear earplugs.
Whatever your baseline risk might be, you can always take steps to help lower that risk and preserve your sense of hearing for the future.