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A common misconception about hearing loss is that it is namely caused by aging and that only older adults experience impaired hearing. Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues that people live with today. There are actually a number of causes that people of all ages can experience. You may be surprised to learn about a few of the factors that can cause hearing loss. Learning about how hearing loss can happen can also help you protect your hearing health.
- Earbuds. Whether it is listening to music, podcasts, or talking on the phone; using earbuds are a common way people listen to audio. Though earbuds are a convenient way to listen and have your hands-free, they can also pose a risk to your hearing health. Depending on the device they are connected to and the type of earbuds, audio can reach up to 102 decibels (dB) which far exceeds the limit for safe listening – 85dB. This can irreparably damage the sensory cells in the inner ear which play a key role in how sound is absorbed and processed.
Loud noise from earbuds can desensitize or weaken sensory cells in the inner ear,
reducing their capacity to effectively process incoming soundwaves. This contributes to the development of noise induced hearing loss. The World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that over 1 billion people are at increased risk of developing noise induced hearing loss as a result of loud noise exposure from audio sources (using electronic devices) as well as social spaces. You can protect your hearing health by maintaining lower volume settings on your electronic devices and taking listening breaks throughout the day.
- Airbags. Airbags are an important safety feature that offer life saving protection in the event of a car accident. Interestingly enough, airbags can also contribute to hearing loss in a few ways. Airbags can damage components of the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing consisting of the ears and brain which work together to absorb and process sound. This includes the bones in the ear, sensory cells in the inner ear, nerves, and parts of the brain that process auditory signals. One study showed that 17% of people involved in car accidents which activated the airbag, experienced hearing loss as a result.
- Heart disease. Extensive research shows that a number of medical conditions can increase the risk of hearing loss. This includes heart disease, a chronic health issue that impacts blood vessels. Heart disease can damage blood vessels and produce blockages or ruptures which restricts blood flow. This can lead to strokes or heart attacks which is why heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Restricted blood flow in the ears can impact how sound is absorbed and processed, also contributing to hearing loss. If you have heart disease, it is important to prioritize care for your health and to take all prescribed medications as well as practice regimens outlined by your doctor.
- Smoking. A recent study found that compared to nonsmokers, smokers were 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss and 20% more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss. Nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, can impact blood vessels and blood flow throughout the body including the ears where sound waves are processed. Eliminating or at least reducing intake as much as possible can help reduce your risk of hearing loss.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is another medical condition that can increase the risk of hearing loss. Nearly 37 million people have diabetes and 1.5 million people are diagnosed with it every year. Substantial research highlights that diabetes can significantly increase the risk of developing hearing loss. One study including assessing over 5,000 people both with and without diabetes.Researcgers found that among the participants with diabetes:
- 21% experienced a mild or greater hearing loss of low or mid-frequency sounds compared to 9% of adults without diabetes.
- 54% experienced a mild or greater hearing loss of high-frequency sounds compared to 32% of adults without diabetes.
- Adults with prediabetes had a 30% higher rate of hearing loss
These findings reveal a major link between diabetes and hearing loss, supporting further
research that identifies diabetes as a risk factor for impaired hearing. If you have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, be sure to effectively manage your diabetes and protect your hearing health.