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What’s that? You think you can hear just fine? It turns out your hearing might not be as good as you think, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly a quarter of people between the ages of 20 and 69 who think their hearing is either fine or excellent show signs of hearing loss.
Most people surveyed experienced hearing loss from noisy work environments or due to aging. In fact, the CDC found that 24 percent of hearing loss was due to a loud work or home environment. But the researchers were also surprised by their findings.
“What surprised us was we found many people with evidence of noise-induced hearing damage who don’t have noisy jobs, who got that damage from their home or community,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, Acting Director of the CDC.
Noises such as lawnmowers, loud concerts and even sporting events were some of the more common culprits behind hearing loss. And once your hearing is gone, it’s gone forever.
The survey found that this kind of hearing loss starts early in life. About 20 percent of adults in their 20s in the U.S. lost some ability to hear the softest sounds. A quarter of the people surveyed didn’t even realize they were losing some hearing.
“They thought their hearing was good or excellent, but many of them already had signs of hearing damage on the test,” Schuchat told NPR.
Hearing loss from exposure to excessive noise is problematic because it makes daily activities more difficult, like having a conversation with someone. However, chronic exposure to loud sounds can also lead to other health problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Loud noises are often unavoidable, but hearing loss from them can be prevented. The CDC recommends taking these simple steps to help keep your hearing sharp:
- Avoid noisy places whenever possible.
- If you must be in a noisy environment, step away from the sound source, and try to minimize the amount of time spent there.
- Use earplugs as a convenient, low-cost form of protection. Alternatively, use protective ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones.
- At home and in the car, keep the volume down. Even though the evidence is mixed about using earbuds or headphones for listening, it’s still smart to keep the volume down and take breaks from listening.
- People who know they’ve been exposed to loud noise, or who are concerned that they aren’t hearing as well as they used to, can ask their doctors for a hearing check up.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.