Millennials and an epidemic of hearing loss

Just like many of our ears, alarms have been ringing about hearing health for some time. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that 1.1 billion young adults were at risk of hearing loss way back in 2015. Researchers have raised concerns over how hearing damage is now inescapable in our daily lives.

Five years later, the WHO’s warning is still urgent. Even the AARP, America’s biggest elderly lobby group, warns young people about their hearing health now. Young people should be worried — almost one in five U.S teens aged 12 – 19 have lost some hearing. 

Sadly for those teens, hearing loss is mostly irreversible; once hair cells inside the cochlea are destroyed, they don’t grow back. Between 30% to 50% of hair cells could be damaged before your hearing loss is observable on hearing tests. By the time we notice our missing hearing, it’s often already too late.    

What’s your damage?

It’s surprisingly easy to damage our hearing. Hearing damage starts at 85 decibels (dB), which is the average noise level of a noisy restaurant. It’s not only how loud noise is, but how long you are exposed to it. The higher the decibel level, the less time it takes to cause damage. 

Hearing is a finite resource consumed by noise in our lifestyle choices, our workplaces and our urban spaces. That’s why public health organizations want us to self-monitor our ‘’noise levels’’ and limit our ‘’noise exposure’’ in the world, using language better suited for nuclear safety; Canada’s government even describes noise as ‘’acoustical radiation’’ online. This discourse isn’t unreasonable — noise is dangerous and harmful for our health.  Our ongoing deafness epidemic requires us to change our mindsets about sound.  

Staying safe 

How can you protect yourself? By making hearing protection a part of your life:

  • Stash spare earplugs in your bag. 
  • Switch to noise-canceling headphones in loud environments (like airplanes or public transit) to help keep your volume levels in check.
  • Monitor your noise exposure with dB-reading apps like NIOSH Sound Level Meter, SoundPrint or Decibel X Pro

Hearing protection should be convenient — just like there’s no shame in hearing loss, there’s also no shame in hearing protection. A concert can still rock with earplugs. 

Millennials and Gen X are realizing the extent of hearing loss among their demographics. The culture of hearing loss is changing; already, you can find innovations in hearing aid style on Pinterest. If we make enough noise about hearing health, maybe we can save what hearing we have left.