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
A history of listening to rock music is only one of the window-rattling noise hazards that people in middle age have been encountering for decades. Today's world presents much more of a noisy free-for-all than any previous generation ever faced -- blaring police sirens, ear-shattering power tools, head-splitting hairdryers, and the ever-present Walkman-type personal stereos. Over time, their bombing and strafing can wreak cumulative havoc on the inner ear's 20,000-plus sensory receptors (or hair cells), causing permanent hearing loss.
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").