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Say what? Some hearing loss is preventable

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

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

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

As we get older, our risks 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 says 12.5% of youth ages 6 to 19 have permanent hearing loss.

The good news about noise-induced hearing loss is that it is preventable. Dr. Illich teaches 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,” says Dr. Illich.

You should rest for at least 10 minutes before listening to your earphones again.

The increase in youth hearing loss is most likely attributed in part to technology. Today’s 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. Today’s youth are also increasingly using earbuds instead of headphones.

Dr. Illich says earbuds deliver sound directly into the ear canal without any buffer, potentially damaging the sensitive hair cells found in the inner ear. The hair cells convert the sounds we hear 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. Here’s an excuse to spend a little more on earbuds, or better yet, use the more bulky headphones that offer more buffering.

Whatever method you use, Dr. Illich recommends manually changing the settings in your electronic device to a maximum of 60 percent volume; that way you can’t accidently turn your music up too loud. You should also take frequent breaks between listening, following the 60-60 rule.

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

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

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

• 60 dB – Normal conversation

• 90 dB – Hair dryers and lawnmowers

• 110 dB – Concerts

• 120 dB – An MP3 player with sound turned all the way up

• 140-175 dB – Gun shots (depending on gun)

If you have any questions about your hearing, consult an audiologist.

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