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Hearing loss affects 1 in 5 Americans, study finds
November 14th, 2011
06:07 PM ET

Hearing loss affects 1 in 5 Americans, study finds

If you think hearing loss is just an inevitable part of aging, think again.

More than 48 million Americans over age 12 have trouble hearing in one or both ears, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. And the way we listen to music is partly to blame.

“Aging and genetics do sometimes play a role, but what we know now is that environmental exposures - like listening to music too loudly - can contribute to long term hearing damage over time,” says Dr. Frank R. Lin, lead study author and assistant professor of otolaryngology-head  and neck surgery and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “It’s a growing concern.”

Here’s how hearing loss happens with headphones: You have your headphones on and are jamming to your favorite tune on maximum volume. The sound waves enter the ear, travel thru the ear canal all the way to the hair cells located in your inner ear. Hair cells help convert sound energy into electrical signals sent to the brain. This,  in return, allows you to hear the music clearly. But when the volume is too loud, those hair cells get damaged and never grow back.

“The tricky thing about loud noise exposure is that most people won’t see the impact for many years later,” says Lin.  “So consumers aren’t aware they are damaging their hearing until it’s too late.”

Hearing loss is gradual. And people's susceptibility to permanent hearing loss depends on several factors including their own genetics, the background noise they are exposed to and how loud they are listening to music, according to Lin.

So how loud is too loud?

Experts don’t yet have an exact calculation as to  how loud, for how long, is too much.  But researchers do know that the louder the noise, the less time it takes to cause damage to your hearing.

Remember this number: 115 decibels (dB). That’s how loud the average MP3 player is playing music at maximum volume. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, listening to an MP3 player at 100db for just 15 minutes can cause hearing loss. Also, music at 85dB for prolonged, repeated times can cause damage.

“What’s important to remember is that once the hair cells in your ear have been damaged, your body can’t replace them. It’s permanent hearing damage,” says Lin, whose research is the first comprehensive national estimate of hearing loss in the United States.

So for those who want to try to keep from joining the one in five Americans with hearing loss, turn the volume down a notch and choose headphones that rest on the ear, versus ear buds that sit in the entrance of the ear canal.  And a good rule of thumb for parents: If you can hear your kid's music through their headphones, it’s probably too loud.


soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. Lauren B.

    My 18-month-old failed his newborn hearing screening 3 times in the hospital. They chalked it up to fluid and just had me follow up with more testing. The first audiologist he saw said he detected fluid. My pediatrician wasn't satisfied with that answer because she didn't see any fluid.

    So...off to another audiologist for an ABR (measures the response of the nerve to sound). The ABR indicated he had mild-to-moderate hearing loss in both ears. I was absolutely devastated. Went to a 2nd audiologist for another opinion, and she too did an ABR under anesthesia which showed moderate-to-moderately severe hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss...IRREVERSIBLE. Again, I was devastated. At the time of the 2nd test, he was 5 months old. We got his hearing aids a month later, and he wore them up until last March. I didn't believe he had hearing loss. I kept the hearing aids on him consistently, but whenever they were off he would always respond to things they said he couldn't hear. I kept pushing.

    In March we had a third ABR under anesthesia because they started detecting fluid in his ears with the simple office tympanogram that they do each time to check the pressure in the ear. The ABR came back SLIGHTLY abnormal after having his ear drums cut open to insert tubes. The explanation for it being a little abnormal was possible swelling from the surgery. Did some booth testing to test his hearing in an actual sound booth to see what he would turn to, etc., and he scored normal hearing for one ear and possible slight loss for the other. I'm confident that he was just not interested by the time they tested him in that area since we had been waiting for over an hour at the office, but if he does have a slight loss in one ear, I think it's from hearing aids blaring into his ears for 6 months! It's been 8 months since he last wore his aids, and he is doing very well. Talking up a storm and says all kinds of words!

    The point I'm trying to make is that the "gold standard" tests are not always right, and if you have an instinct that says your child is hearing normally, please listen to it. There have been 2 more families experience the same thing in my area recently. That's not just a fluke.

    November 15, 2011 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Michele

    I would like to suggest a topic for an article: The cost of not covering hearing aids!

    A child with even a sever hearing loss who is placed in hearing aids within the first 18 months a life is indistinguishable from a child with normal hearing by age six. Such a child may attend traditional public school with few if any adaptational devices needed. The cost for the hearing aids to age 18 and minimum speech therapy until age 6 is around $30,000 or less.

    However, if a child is *not* placed in hearing aids, that child will require adaptational aids including tutors, extensive (and often unhelpful) speech therapy, hand held captioning devices, etc. These children often can't attend public school, meaning the state must cover or help cover the cost of a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. The price tag for this avenue can exceed one million dollars.

    With that in mind, would it not make vast economic sense to provide hearing aids to all children who need them at no cost? The states would more than be able to cover the cost of such a program from the savings alone. So why isn't it done in all states instead of less than a dozen? Because once upon a time hearing aids were not that effective. But they have improved so dramatically over the past 30 years that we need to rethink coverage for them and mandate it.

    No one would ever suggest not providing wheelchairs or braces to a person with cerebral palsy. Likewise, no person with a hearing loss should be unable to obtain a hearing aid due to cost or lack of coverage.

    November 15, 2011 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dac

      Just remember the wehigt loss benefits of green tea are often exaggarated. And as I mentioned in the video, you'll need to drink several cups per day (9+) to achieve any wehigt loss benefits. By all mean consume as much green tea as you can stomach (literally) but do it for its overall health benefits NOT for its wehigt loss benefits.

      May 26, 2012 at 20:42 | Report abuse |
  3. Sharon

    Hearing loss is a serious healyh issue as reported above.My husband has hearing loss and the TERRIBLE thing is our health care in this country doesn't pay for hearing aids! THATS CRAZY. HEALTH CARE SHOULD COVER HEARING AIDS GLASSES AND DENTAL ALL OF WHICH HAVE TO DO WITH YOUR HEALTH.I GUESS AS LONG AS YOU LOOK HEALTHY YOUR HEARING,SITE AND ORAL HEALTH DON'T MATTER. HEARING AIDS ALONE CAN COST $7000.00. NEEDLESS TO SAY WE CAN'T AFFORD IT SO MY HUSBAND HAS TO SUFFER BECAUSE OF THAT.OUR COUNTRY NEEDS TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD AND START WORRY ABOUT OUR OWN COUNTRY,THEN AND ONLY THEN SHOULD WE BE GIVING OTHER COUNTRIES MONEY.THEY SURE MISS THE CLASSES ABOUT MANAGING A BUDGET.WORRY ABOUT US WE ARE THE ONES PAYING FOR ALL THESE WARS AND HELPING OTHER COUNTRIES AND WE ARE THE ONES WHO ARE SUFFERING BECAUSE OF IT !!

    November 15, 2011 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • angel

      i feel your pain-we need to get insurance to help with hearing aids!!!!! anyway try your local Division of Vocational Rehabilitation–if you are low income, seniors-they might help you with some of the cost of hearing aid. My mom got help from a national organization that helps low income people/seniors with the cost of hearing aids. I cannot remember the name of it–please google "help with hearing aid costs" or something like that and see what comes up. My mom got 2 nice hearings aids for a total of $2000.00–about half of the cost. also gets batteries for very low price from the hearing aid company. Hope this helps. i am a late deaf adult-lost hearing around age 20-wore aids for years and now have a cochlear implant–you might want to check if your insurance would help with the cost of a cochlear implant-also google cochlear implant and research. The insurance helped me alot with this-you have to be pretty much profoundly deaf to qualify for this so the insurance would require a hearing test-then go from there. the cochlear implant is my lifeline to the world!!! good luck!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      The money has to come from somewhere, are you going to pay? If more is paid out premiums have to increase, if it's socialist society like we are becoming then taxes will go up.

      November 15, 2011 at 09:54 | Report abuse |
    • Luka

      Until there is proof, this is just a lie and innuendo. You don\'t screw arnoud with this type of lie. You would destroy a whole family with this kind of nonsense. 0bama is doing a good job of bringing himself down, so until there is solid proof, the media is being responsible. The people only have a right to the TRUTH. Nothing else.

      September 11, 2012 at 07:40 | Report abuse |
  4. Sharon

    I DON'T KNOW IF YOU ARE TALKING TO ME BUT THERE ISN'T ANYTHING ABOUT RACISM ON MY POST AND THERE NEVER WILL BE.

    November 15, 2011 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Chief

    As a retired service member that lost a lot of hearing, hearing aids really are items that need to be covered by insurance. It is amazing the difference in quality of life by having the hearing aids. Children and parents need to heed the warnings and do all we can to protect the hearing of the future generation. Hearing loss not only effects the person that lost the hearing but everyone around them. Contact your lawmakers about getting hearing aids covered by insurance.

    November 15, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jose San Antonio

    How I am not surprised. Also, teenagers nowadays got to have those 1000 watts boom box in their cars. Like I told my wife, wait till these guys reach 40 yrs old...What?... did you say something?...

    November 15, 2011 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. John

    Jeff. That was a stupid comment.

    November 15, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hicham

      No. AIDS is the result of ienfction by a virus called HIV. The virus has to pass from the body fluids of someone already infected to someone else.Mixing blood that doesn't already have HIV won't create the virus. However if someone has HIV in their blood and a small amount of their blood is able to enter your bloodstream, HIV can get into your body that way.It's important to remember that not everyone who has HIV in their body knows they have it.

      September 14, 2012 at 01:29 | Report abuse |
  8. Mike Myers

    I go into much more detail about my personal journey with hearing loss with several suggestions along with how to determine safe listening levels:

    http://www.vicfirth.com/exchange/2010/03/02/protecting-your-most-valuable-instrument/

    November 15, 2011 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Joseph

    Lauren, your baby should have had an ABR with air and bone conduction transducers, and a high frequency probe tone ABR. These measures would have been able to identify the true nature and extent of the problem. Sounds like the ABR was done only by air conduction, although other technical factors could impact results (like poor bone conduction placement, bone conduction transducer failure, etc.).

    November 15, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lauren B.

      He did have bone conduction. His bone conduction score for one ear was 25 or 30, I believe. He saw 4 different audiologists total and 2 ENTs, one of which was the leading pediatric ENT at MUSC! It makes no sense. He stumped everyone. Still is. :)

      November 15, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
    • Lauren B.

      I meant his threshold was 25 or 30. It really makes no sense! I have sent a semi long summary of all of his tests and results to several top audiologists, including Jane Madell, but she wanted to be paid to look at his ABR tracings, which was fine, but I found someone with a hearing loss study to look over his papers...she was stumped. If you want to be stumped as well, feel free to email me at lauren.bedell@gmail.com, and I will send you his summary.

      November 15, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
    • Andrea

      Lauren, has anyone ever evaluated your baby for auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder? Hopefully one of the several audiologists that your child saw thought to look for evidence of ANSD during an ABR, but maybe they did not as they were more focused on determining thresholds. ANSD can cause children to have auditory thresholds which fluctuate and often don't make sense. OAE testing, which is simple and requires no participation on your child's part besides sitting quietly with a probe tip in their ear, could help to rule out ANSD.

      You said you have send your son's information to several well-known audiologists, so perhaps you could approach Chuck Berlin down in Florida (if you haven't done so already) and see if he has any ideas about your son's case. He was one of the lead researches regarding ANSD before he retired.

      November 15, 2011 at 17:48 | Report abuse |
  10. Joseph

    Sorry, typed ABR instead of high frequency probe tone immittance test (tympanograms).

    November 15, 2011 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. gager

    Sadly, when you ask restaurants to turn down the music they look at you like you have two heads. More people need to complain where you spend your money.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. David

    I prefer to be deaf. Quit acting like we suffer or it needs to be fixed. Capitalist profiteers who sell hearing aids make it seem like we need to change to fit into hearing society. Audism can only end when we teach sign language to all.

    November 15, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gager

      You are not forced to buy those capitalistic goods. Spend your money on a good education instead. Learn the value of free enterprise.

      November 15, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  13. ruth gottstein

    Why in the world should these little bits of plastic cost thousands of dollars? None of the so-called hearing aid organizations ever evaluate the different brands, nor does Consumer Reports, which monthly publishes reviews of cars costing thousands of dollars. But there is more to be said. Seniors don't go to public meetings. And when I've asked other seniors why they don't attend, and could it be because they don't hear what's being said, invariably the response is, "I've never thought about it before, but you are right." What a loss to the democratic process!

    November 21, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. joe

    i have a head that has ears that have hearing loss

    February 7, 2012 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Zeqiang

    Hi there,I'm not a girl. But as a guy, I would encourage you not to think of ppleoe (girls included) judging you on the basis of your disability. I know of a blind guy who won over a beautiful girl, who he is now married to! I believe that it is your personality; not your disabilities that counts.I hope this helps.

    May 23, 2012 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 14, 2012 at 01:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Hearing Loss

    I never feel that mp3 player manufactures do enough to prevent hearing loss. There is never any warning that music is too loud, nor is it clear what DB the music is playing at. Informative pieces like this seem to be the only way to educate people of the dangers of listening to loud music for prolonged period of times.

    June 21, 2013 at 05:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.