Jason Price, 27, was born with a hearing loss and admits it changes a young person’s lifestyle, but it shouldn’t change a person’s life.
“It’s one of those things you adapt to and go on,” said Price, a football player at Marietta College from Fredericktown. “What’s most important is normalcy. Kids with hearing problems should be in normal classes, get treated normally — that’s what’s best.”
Price couldn’t help his hearing problem, but millions of other young adults can.
More than 30 million Americans, of all ages, are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis and 28 million have some degree of hearing loss.
It isn’t just older adults or the elderly anymore. An increasing number of young people are experiencing hearing loss, and the culprit is a lifestyle that listens to loud music and fails to protect the ear when engaging in noisy activities.
Price heard his first sound when he was 2 years old, and now he has 80 percent hearing loss.
“I’m not so concerned with kids today who listen to loud music and hurt their hearing with noise and all. That’s their choice, and they are old enough to know better,” Price said.
Price, who is studying to be a secondary teacher and coach, said he is more concerned with very young children with hearing loss.
“Having to overcome that while learning to read and write is really difficult for them,” he said.
There are no firm statistics yet, the problem is so new, but traditionally one in 10 Americans is hearing impaired. It’s expected that number will multiply and update as today’s baby boom generation ages, according to a Marietta hearing professional.
“I see more and more people my age having hearing loss. It scares me,” said Jim Davis, a national board-certified audio prosthologist (a hearing aid specialist). “I test myself every month.”
Hearing professionals, like the 52-year-old Davis, fear that because of lifestyle issues, within two decades, hearing problems of younger people may become more common.
“It’s a grave concern,” Davis, with Wilson Hearing Center, 316 Second St., Marietta, and in Cambridge, said.
Dullness of hearing and a sensitivity to noise after exposure to loud music are common symptoms. With young people, these symptoms often are ignored, or never mentioned.
“If you have ringing in your ears after experiencing loud noise, you have already caused damage,” John Nussbaumer, president of Pioneer Hearing Aid Center, 206 Putnam St. “It’s like a bad sunburn you get once. It may not show up at first, but will come to fruition later on.”
High levels of noise cause irreparable damage to the tiny hairs in the inner ear. The hairs move in response to vibrations and the movement generates an electrical signal transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve.
When the hair cells are damaged by noise, transmission is interrupted.
“There can be degradation (loss of the ability to understand speech) as long as the ear doesn’t send the right signals to the brain,” Davis said. “Hearing and understanding are two different things. Your ear hears, but your brain understands.”
If your son mows lawns during summer or your teen spends the day with stereo earphones attached to his or her head, you might have reason for concern.
“Young men don’t work in steel mills anymore, but kids build car stereos into monsters and love car races, like NASCAR, that are extremely loud,” Nussbaumer said. “The last race I attended, they were selling earplugs.”
If your child rides a four-wheeler without ear protection, attends frequent rock concerts, or rides an ATV there is cause to worry, experts agree.
A recent report shows that one in four young people suffers from hearing damage with noise they inflict themselves.
“My generation used to just play it loud,” Davis said of music. “Today, with high amplification and earphones, we can’t hear it, but they do, and it often causes damage to hearing.”
Rock concerts, personal music devices, headphones, cranked-up car stereos lead to an entire generation that may — down the road — experience impaired hearing.
School hearing screenings are only part of the solution.
“Any child 18 or under, suspected of hearing loss, must see a doctor first,” Davis said. “It’s so difficult to know what you don’t hear.”
Harmful noise to young children can be as simple as a vacuum cleaner, garbage disposal, lawn mower, leaf blower, or dad’s shop tools.
“A lot of times it’s recreational activities, like ATVs, hunting, car races,” Nussbaumer said. “The River Roar coming up is very loud. People bring their children and don’t realize the noise might be harming them.”
The number of young people with hearing loss is expected to more than double in the next 25 years.
Many professionals are beginning to advocate putting warning labels on personal music devices or using an electronic warning system to alert listeners when music is at damaging levels.
“A full one-third of your life is spent with your eyes closed,” Davis said. “But hearing is 24-7. It’s always. Poor hearing can affect all aspects of your life.”
Tips to prevent hearing loss from noise exposure
- Wear earplugs or other hearing protective devices when involved in a loud activity. Anything above 90 decibels is dangerous.
- Parents should be alert to hazardous noise in the environment.
- Make family, friends, and colleagues aware of the hazards of too much noise.
- Have a medical examination by a physician who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck and a hearing test by an audiologist, or hearing professional.
- Keep the volume low when using earphones or car stereos (noise is accentuated in enclosed spaces such as cars).
- Get proper immunizations from measles and other diseases and medical treatments for infections for both you and your children.
- Don’t blow your nose too hard.
- See your doctor immediately if you have any sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears.
Symptoms of hearing loss
- Sounds are distorted or muffled.
- Difficulty in understanding normal speech.
- Sensitivity after hearing loud sounds.
- The individual may not be aware of a loss, but a hearing test can detect hearing loss.
Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
By Connie Cartmell