Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Facts, stats and what you can do to conserve your hearing
1 in 4 kiwis have a hearing loss, and was estimated to cost the New Zealand economy $957.3 million in 2016.
It seems that everyone wants to blame headphones, and the rise of personal listening devices! Although these can be a factor, there are many other things that cause hearing loss.
See, we live in an increasingly noisy world. That noise comes from many things - Population density, the increase of motor vehicles and machinery as a whole, the containment of sound in smaller living spaces with hard walls and floors that reflect sound back to us. This constant exposure to sound is so integrated with our daily living, we often forget that we are constantly surrounded by heaps of man-made sound!
As I'm typing this, I am aware of the birds chirping in the background and the rain pattering on the windows, but also the ring of telephones in the background, the hum of the heat pump and the clacking of my fingers as they hit the keyboard. These are relatively soft sounds that won't damage my hearing, but if I head to the bar for a catch up with a friend for a couple of hours after work (90 dB) and take my 30 minute drive home with my windows down along the highway (85 dB), I'd actually have already used up my "noise dose" for the day. If I go home and decide to blast some music with my flatmates, my ear hair cells (cilia) start to lose their will to live. And once they die, they never grow back.
We often blame hearing loss on "aging". That's a myth. Getting old doesn't cause hearing loss. Living does. This is why you can meet a 100 year old living in the 'burbs with perfect hearing, but are unlikely to find someone living in the city with perfect hearing as they get older.
"Hearing loss" doesn't mean you can't hear. It just means you might have lost a certain degree of your hearing at specific frequencies. For noise-induced hearing loss, that usually means your high frequencies. Your cochlea is a spiral-shaped organ, with the high frequencies at the base (opening), and the low frequencies protected at the apex (in the middle). When the sound of a gentle breeze flows into the cochlea, the sound is registered by the 18,000 cilia, converted to electrical signals, and sent to the brain to be processed.
When loud sounds from a rock concert or jackhammer come blasting through, however, they hit the curve of the cochlea at high impact, "bouncing off the walls" with increasingly less energy as it travels to the low frequency hair cells. The pressure from the sound wave damages (temporary loss) or even kills (permanent loss) the cilia. That doesn't mean you can't hear - It just means you can only hear less in some frequencies.
Noise-Induced hearing loss is 100% preventable
We've written about how hearing can harm our mental and physical health, annoyance noise, how to recognise dangerous volumes, and how you can control noise in your environment. Carrying around personal hearing protection is often useful because you often can't control the noise in your environment. We didn't start off as a hearing protection provider, but due to the limited options available in New Zealand, we have started bringing in high quality White Cat Earplugs to provide a practical solution to protect your hearing.
We'll leave you with some quirky facts and statistics about hearing loss:
More than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
Approximately 15% of New Zealand adults aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing.
Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20-69.
About 18 percent of adults aged 20-69 have speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears from among those who report 5 or more years of exposure to very loud noise at work, as compared to 5.5 percent of adults with speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears who report no occupational noise exposure.
About 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
Roughly 10 percent of the adult population, or about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.
Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.
Five out of 6 children experience ear infection (otitis media) by the time they are 3 years old.
Why is the pattern so distinctive? Are headphones all to blame? Does age cause hearing loss?
It doesn't have to be difficult or costly. Learn the 3 basic steps to help you effectively control noise in your environment.
How can I protect my staff or myself at my workplace? What does the law say about noise exposure?