Hearing loss is a common affliction that affects 1 out of 3 people by the age of 65. While normal aging (presbycusis) is responsible for a significant percentage of hearing impairments, an even bigger factor is noise exposure: excessive noise is the number one cause of hearing loss.
Hearing loss is characterized by a decreased sensitivity to sound. Individuals with an impairment have difficulty understanding speech; it often sounds muffled, too quiet, or is drowned out by background noise. They often need to ask others to repeat themselves, and may experience tinnitus (a persistent ringing in the ears).
Noise-induced hearing loss disrupts the lives of many people exposed to loud sounds in the environment. The inner ear is sensitive; prolonged exposure to excessive noise – or even a single event (e.g. a gunshot or explosion) – can permanently damage hearing. Those most at risk from occupational hearing impairment are factory workers, farmers, construction workers, military personnel, musicians, firefighters, police officers, dentists, and transportation industry workers. Recreational risks that can affect anybody include music concerts, nightclubs, video arcades, firecrackers, target shooting or hunting, movie theaters, sporting events, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and lawnmowers or leaf blowers.
Presbycusis – hearing loss related to the normal aging process – is the second leading cause of hearing impairment. It starts much earlier than you might think: changes in hearing begin at the age of 20, with a significant decline in hearing ability as early as 40 years of age.
Ear infections, trauma or injury to the ears, ototoxic reactions to drugs or cancer treatment, and birth defects or genetics can all contribute to hearing loss, as well.