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'Say What?!'

Hearing loss doesn't just happen to the elderly. Many people in their 40s and 50s have some degree of hearing loss.

Louder Isn't Better continued...

While the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 protects us from noise exposure in the workplace, there are no controls on the din and the racket that greet us in the rest of our lives. In fact, we've become so accustomed to noise that we're barely aware of just how loud the world has become.

"You open the door to many restaurants, and the way that architects have designed them, it sounds like a great party is under way, and it's a place where you definitely want to be," says Pamela Mason, MEd, director of the ASHA's Audiology Practice, Policy & Consultation Unit. "But once you sit down, it's so noisy that you can't hear what the people at your own table are saying."

Even your get-away-from-it-all moments can increase the risk of hearing loss. "Each time you ride a motorcycle, a snowmobile, or a Jet Ski, you might experience some permanent damage to your hearing," says Mason. "You can't even go to the Grand Tetons and get away from noise completely!"

No matter how loud the noise levels in your life, there might also be a genetic component to your hearing loss. Particularly in combination with noise exposure, your genetic predisposition for hearing difficulties may surface at a younger age than it might have otherwise.

"There's reasonably good evidence of a genetic susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss," says Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD, chief of the Section of Hereditary Disorders of the Ear at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles.

Hearing Loss Denial

Whatever your age, particularly in your 40s and 50s, you may resist admitting that you have a hearing impairment. You could be embarrassed ("I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a hearing aid"). Or you might be skeptical that a problem exists at all ("Everyone knows that hearing loss happens only to old people").

"About three-fourths of the men and women who have a hearing loss never show up at an audiologist's office," says Mason, former director of the audiology program at George Washington University Hospital. Patients often tell her, "My spouse made me come in. She told me that the TV is so loud that she was going out of her mind."

Ironically, the person with the hearing deficit may be the last person to realize he has a problem. Hearing loss tends to occur gradually over a number of years, and people often adjust and may not even be aware that their hearing has steadily worsened -- although family members and co-workers certainly know it. "Their hearing loss may become the norm for them," says Friedman. "They may feel it's normal to miss out on parts of conversations. They often blame the people they're speaking with, complaining that others mumble."

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