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Noise Is a Leading Cause of Hearing Loss

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If you answer "yes" to questions such as: "Do you have difficulty hearing when someone speaks in a whisper?" or "Does a hearing problem cause you difficulty when listening to television or radio?," you may need a professional hearing test. If hearing loss is detected, it can be prevented from getting worse if you stop doing whatever is causing the damage. A physician can help do the detective work and track down what noise exposure is too great or too prolonged or both.

Rabinowitz advises that a doctor should confirm the cause of any hearing loss. "There are other things that can cause hearing loss, such as a growth or certain diseases," says Rabinowitz, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

"Education can come from a lot of venues, but having it come from the personal physician adds credibility and an opportunity to ask questions." says Amy Donahue, PhD, chief of the hearing and balance section of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

One source of noise is firearms, and a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that the use of recreational firearms -- guns used for hunting and target shooting -- is linked to hearing loss. Lead researcher Karen J. Cruickshanks, PhD, and study author David M. Nondahl, MS, report in the Archives of Family Medicine that men who engage in these activities are twice as likely to experience hearing loss.

"I was surprised at the number of target shooters who did not wear hearing protection," Nondahl tells WebMD. "I can't imagine firing 50 to 100 rounds in an hour without [it]. The noise is extremely intense." Nondahl is a biostatistician with The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study and an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Medical School.

Nondahl and his colleagues found in their study of about 1,500 men, between the ages of 43 and 84, that over a third of the target shooters never wore hearing protection while shooting during the past year.

Most hunters (95%) don't wear any protection, either, but the authors point out that hunters need to be able to hear their prey and communicate with their hunting partners. But the authors point out that level-dependent earplugs have been shown to protect the ears while allowing communication.

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