If you have noticed that you’re having to move the volume up a bit more on the television or you’re struggling to hear the person on the other end of a call, you’re not alone. Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults.
Close to 13 percent of North Texans age 65 and over report being deaf or having serious difficulty hearing, according to the DFWHC Foundation. But if you find that more of your male friends and family seem to be affected, it isn’t just a coincidence. According to a recent report published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, men are almost twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss as women.
The most common type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, a permanent loss that occurs when there is damage to either the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve itself. Much of male hearing loss is attributed to longtime exposure to excessive noise, whether it be from the workplace or leisure activities. Exposure to noise as a result of military service is another reason men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.
Another factor for the increased rate of hearing loss in men is the use of analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). According to a study published in The American Journal of Medicine in 2010, regular use of analgesics was associated with an increased risk of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can manifest in many different ways depending on the degree or severity. Decibels (dB) describe how loud something is. It is considered normal by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for most people to have difficulty hearing anything between 10 to 15 dB as we get older. For reference, breath sounds clock in around 10 dB and a whisper sits around 15 dB. You are considered to have moderately severe hearing loss if you have trouble registering noises between the ranges of 56 and 70 dB, or the average range of a conversation, background music, a vacuum cleaner, the radio or the television. Severe and profound hearing loss occurs when you can no longer hear noises above 71 dB, such as a lawnmower, car horn, rock concert or gunshot.
The symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss affect both the loudness and the clarity of sounds. Common symptoms:
- Listening to the television or radio at a high volume
- Difficulty hearing people on the phone
- Difficulty hearing women’s or children’s voices
- Trouble understanding speech, especially in busy or noisy environments
- Feeling off-balance or dizzy
- Often asking people to repeat themselves
- The perception that others are mumbling when they are not
- Avoiding social situations out of fear or embarrassment
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
So how do you know if you have hearing loss and to what degree? You doctor can refer you to a hearing specialist such as an audiologist or otolaryngologist who will then administer a series of hearing tests. The test will play a series of sounds or phonetics at various ranges, volumes and octaves in each ear and a graph of the softest sounds you heard during the test will be made.
Based on the outcome of the test, your physician and specialist can recommend a course of treatment. Although there is no medical or surgical method of repairing the cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve if they are damaged, sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids or cochlear implants, depending on the severity of the loss. Assistive listening devices, like alerting devices, vibrating alarm clocks and captioned phones can also help provide a complete hearing solution.
Most hearing loss happens over time due to the environment we surround ourselves with or the events we choose to go to. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets 85 dB as the maximum exposure limit before hearing damage begins to occur. The threshold of pain, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDOCD), is 125 decibels. So what about the events that DFW-residents may commonly go to?
If you head out to a Dallas Mavericks game at the American Airlines Center (AAC), you’re looking at dB ranges from 99 to 118, according to the Noise Navigator™ Sound Level Database compiled by the University of Michigan. Headed to a Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium? Expect noise levels around 91 dB. Want to enjoy the Dallas Stars at the AAC? You’re looking at 99 to 103 dB. A trip to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth will expose you to 90 to 115 dB. Want to kick back and enjoy a day at Globe Life Park watching the Texas Rangers? Expect 85 dB at its quietest and 107 dB at its loudest. Thinking about taking in a game of fútbol with FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium? Think about 100 dB noise as well.
Gary Gross, M.D., allergist/immunologist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, says hearing protection can quickly take a dangerous sound level to a safer one and allow you to enjoy any loud event without the damaging effects.
“The best head/ear protection would be to get a headset with a good noise reduction (20dB or more) and listen to the [event] through the headset with the volume down,” he says. “You need ear plugs — at a minimum — and those vary in quality, so the longer you are there the more protection you need.”
Gross says that when purchasing noise-canceling headsets, look for the Noise Reduction Rating — the higher the better. And don’t forget that children will need their own headsets; adult headsets will not protect their hearing as well.
Without that ear protection, sustained exposure to loud sounds can result in permanent damage.
“Sitting in that environment for a prolonged time — even a couple of hours — could damage your ears and take hours of quiet to help normalize,” Gross says. “The longer you’re there, the more damage occurs without protection.”
Have concerns about your hearing? Find an ENT with our physician finder or by calling 1-877-THR-WELL.