One of the most common misconceptions about hearing loss is that it only impacts older adults. While aging is one cause of hearing loss, there are other factors that can also contribute to the development of hearing loss. This includes exposure to loud noise which is increasingly impacting millennials and Gen Z. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1 billion people ages 12-35 are at high risk of developing noise induced hearing loss. You may be surprised to learn that 10% of millennials and 17% of Gen Z already have some degree of hearing loss. Learning about this increased risk and practicing safety measures can protect hearing health.
Hearing Loss, Millennials, & Gen Z
Millennials and Gen Z are more and more exposed to loud noise. From listening to music or podcasts using earbuds to attending concerts and parties, this demographic tends to be regularly exposed to excessive noise. Common ways people are exposed to loud noise include:
- Social activities: engaging in various social activities can expose people to high levels of noise. Examples include:
- parties, loud restaurants, bars: 85-90dB
- attending a game in a sports arena or concert in a stadium: up to 110dB
- Electronic devices: earbuds have become an everyday item that millennials and Gen Z young adults use to listen to music, podcasts etc. Depending on the device, sound can exceed 100dB at the highest volume setting.
Millennials and Gen Z can regularly engage in these activities, putting hearing health at risk. Exposure to high noise levels can damage hearing and contribute to noise induced hearing loss.
Understanding Noise Induced Hearing Loss
One time or consistent exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss. Sound is measured in units known as decibels (dB) and sound above 85dB is considered potentially hazardous for hearing health. For perspective this is equivalent to busy city traffic, a noisy restaurant during peak hours, and a blow dryer. According to exports, people can be exposed to 85dB for 8 hours a day without harming their hearing health. But exposure time to noise levels beyond this needs to be drastically reduced (by half for every 3 decibel increase).
Noise induced hearing loss occurs when the sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged. These tiny cells, there are thousands in each ear, play a major role in how we process sound. They are responsible for converting incoming sound waves into electrical signals which get sent to the brian. The brain is then able to further process these signals which includes assigning meaning to them, allowing us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can desensitize and weaken these cells which reduces their capacity to effectively process incoming soundwaves. This results in the brain receiving less auditory information, causing hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
Fortuenaly, noise induced hearing loss is totally preventable. There are several strategies you can practice to protect your hearing health including:
- Wear hearing protection: this includes headphones, earbuds, and earmuffs which provide the ears with a protective barrier. This reduces the amount of loud noise you absorb. These items are portable allowing you to carry hearing protection with you.
- Measure noise and adjust exposure: it is important to be aware of the noise level you are exposed to so that you can adjust your time accordingly. There are several downloadable apps that measure the devices in your environment including: NIOSH Sound Level Meter App (iOS), Sound Meter X (iOS), and Sound Meter (Android).
- Reduce exposure to loud noise: another useful strategy is to reduce your exposure to loud noise as much as possible. A few ways you can do this include: avoid noisy settings and opt for quieter environments, drive with the windows rolled up to reduce environmental noise, and maintain lower volume settings on your electronic devices.
- Take listening breaks: take 5-10 minute listening breaks throughout the day. This involves powering off and loud sources of noise and being in the quiet. Listening breaks give your ears and brain time to rest and recuperate from constantly absorbing and processing noise.
- Get hearing tested: integrate a hearing test in yearly health check-ins. This allows you to monitor your hearing health and intervene early if you experience any symptoms over time.
These strategies can significantly reduce the risk of developing hearing loss. This is especially important if you are a millennial or Gen Z. Contact us to learn more about hearing loss and the resources as well as services that are available to support your hearing health.