May is Better Hearing & Speech Month
Leisure Activities Rife With Loud Noise
With more than half of Americans who experience noise-induced hearing loss not working in noisy jobs, the spotlight turns to what Americans are doing in their leisure time. May 1 marks the beginning of Better Hearing & Speech Month—a time to assess lifestyle habits that may be contributing to hearing loss as well as schedule a hearing evaluation for anyone with concerns about their hearing.
About 40 million U.S. adults aged 20–69 years have noise-induced hearing loss, a form of hearing damage that results from exposure to loud noise. This could be cumulative harm that developed from exposure over time, or it could occur from one severe episode. Although completely preventable, once it occurs, it is irreversible. Far from simply being an annoyance, hearing loss can affect almost all aspects of life, including physical health, mental health, employment status and success, social functioning and satisfaction, and much more. Hearing loss can be treated through various technologies and techniques under the care of a certified audiologist, but hearing is never fully restored.
In addition to the dangers posed by listening to ear buds or headphones at too-loud volumes and for too long, noisy settings are commonplace in today’s society, including in Raleigh. Many restaurants are specifically designed to elevate noise levels to make establishments feel more energetic. Similarly, some sports stadiums have been built with sound elevation in mind, thought to improve the fan experience and serve as a home-team advantage. Coffee shops, fitness classes, and more all make modern society a collectively loud place.
“Although many people report concern about noisy environments, not nearly enough take protective steps,” said Raleigh-based audiologist Lena Kyman, AuD. She offers some simple ways that the public can take charge of their hearing health—this month and always:
• Wear hearing protection. Earplugs and earmuffs are cheap, portable, and (with a good fit) offer excellent hearing protection. Bring them along when you know you’ll be in a noisy setting. Better yet, keep them on you at all times!
• Reduce exposure. Take steps to reduce your exposure to noisy settings. Visit noisy establishments during off times, consider quieter settings, and talk to managers if you find the noise level uncomfortable.
• See a certified audiologist for a hearing evaluation. A recent government report stated that 1 in 4 U.S. adults who report excellent to good hearing already have hearing damage. Many adults don’t routinely get their hearing checked, and even those who are concerned often delay treatment for years. Postponing treatment can have serious medical and mental health repercussions in addition to reducing a person’s quality of life, so visit a certified audiologist if you have any concerns.
“This advice about hearing protection goes for just about everyone, from the youngest of children to older adults, from those with excellent hearing who want to maintain it, to those who already have some hearing loss and don’t want to make it worse,” notes Lena Kyman, AuD. “As a society, everyone needs to prioritize hearing protection.”