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 (111 Responses)
  1. Leo

    Here I was hoping that we'd get an article about hearing conditions that most people are unaware of, but instead, it's just a reminder for people to turn down their music. Sad.

    I never liked loud music. In fact, I tend to strongly dislike loud sounds. Sudden, loud sounds (especially high-pitched ones) actually hurt my ears. For a few years now, however, I noticed episodes of hearing trouble. I also had vertigo episodes, and tinnitus that would come and go. It's all been getting progressively worse, and after three years of reporting these symptoms to doctors, I finally got one guy to put it together and say, "Oh! This is Meniere's disease!"

    And now, I hear about people who damage their hearing through their own bad decisions, and it just boils my blood. If you've got normal hearing, folks, cherish it and take care of your ears.

    November 14, 2011 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Abbyka

      I was hoping it would have a list of little known or rare hearing conditions. About six months ago I started losing the hearing in my right ear to loud and annoying pulsatile tinnitus. The doctors don't know whats causing it and it's ruining my life. I can't even hear my children when they ask me for something anymore.

      November 14, 2011 at 22:10 | Report abuse |
    • Kareny

      It may be only just a reminder but it's a good idea. For some unknown reason people riding public transportation with their headsets on think everyone else wants to hear the music they're listening to & likes the music. Same goes for people driving their cars.

      November 15, 2011 at 01:27 | Report abuse |
    • David

      sorry, what was that?

      November 15, 2011 at 01:34 | Report abuse |
    • Laurie

      My Mom's got it too, don't remember what her ENT doctor has her on for it though, but it helps a huge amount in decreasing the tinnitus to a bearable level.

      November 15, 2011 at 03:19 | Report abuse |
  2. Mandy


    November 14, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. stonedwhitetrash


    November 14, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mandy

      LOL – we just posted the same thing at the same exact time.

      November 14, 2011 at 21:56 | Report abuse |
    • tapuhere

      Wow, you were, like, simultaneously mor ons!

      November 15, 2011 at 09:58 | Report abuse |
  4. Pete Ciarrochi

    You might do a story about how a hearing aid cost more than a thousand dollars and health insurance provides no coverage.

    November 14, 2011 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nicole M

      i completely understand my daughter's hearing aid she needs because she was BORN with hearing loss is not covered under our insurance, guess hearing for a child isn't that "important"

      November 14, 2011 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
    • Lexie

      Definitely, I have a hearing loss and am legally blind. My hearing aids (with FM system cost upwards of $6000 and are not covered by insurance) are probably the number one most helpful and important piece of equipment I have to help me function and be independent. And insurance calls them a 'luxury item." Why aren't hearing aids considered durable medical equipment and why are thousands of insured people who happen to be hearing impaired being discriminated against by insurance companies? This is a way more important story, or this 1 in 5 statistic would be a good lead in to why high costs of hearing aids impacts a LOT of people.

      November 15, 2011 at 02:49 | Report abuse |
    • Simpleton

      Lexie can't wait until the health insurance community starts to call eye glasses a luxury item as well.
      It would seem in your situation if eye glasses are not an option they might slide the importance for you to compensate, but that would cut into insurance companies bottom line.

      November 15, 2011 at 04:46 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      My insurance company told me that my daughters hearing aids were cosmetic and therefore not covered. I often wonder if she got hit by a car that she couldn't hear coming...would that claim be cosmetic too. The whole subject makes me so crabby. My daughter was born with hearing loss...

      November 15, 2011 at 07:24 | Report abuse |
    • steve p

      Go to Amazon and type in Hear Aids. There are aids selling for under $200 that get very good reviews. I am using one and I am very happy with it.

      November 15, 2011 at 08:35 | Report abuse |
  5. Greenspam

    And 50% of husbands especially suffer from hearing loss when their wives speak.

    November 14, 2011 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • zombie kid

      And the other 50% are still suffering from hearing loss from the last time their wife spoke...

      I like turtles.

      November 15, 2011 at 01:39 | Report abuse |
  6. MIT

    I blame rap music. Whenever I hear it, I just want to claw out my eardrums

    November 14, 2011 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. QZ

    Americans like so called "music" too much, are too tolerant of noise of lawn mowers, motorcycles, blowers, etc.

    November 14, 2011 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. buddget

    Lets see, well I worked in an engine room during my hitch in the nav.I fired a lot of rounds with my mini-14. I am a metal fabricator that uses a lot of loud power tools. I played in a thrash metal/punk band. I work in a club with a lot of live punk and metal bands. I love my ipod and my walkman before that. I wore ear plugs most of the time during all of that, but I now I have this constant ringing in my ear that sounds like a 1000 crickets. Oh yea Im 48 years old.

    November 14, 2011 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laurie

      Husband worked on the flight line most of his Air Force career, with hearing protection. Jet engine noise is usually the standard for "LOUD" in all the studies, so lots of our friends from those years have mid-high range hearing loss. So far he has lucked out and only has high frequency loss that the audiologist said is NOT connected to his flight line work.

      ACE, look into an electric lawnmower. Much, much quieter. Just be prepared to replace it when the battery finally won't hold a charge, the company who made ours stopped using the battery ours uses almost immediately after we bought ours and of course there are no replacements to be found. We had to go back to a gas powered one and are not happy.

      November 15, 2011 at 03:27 | Report abuse |
  9. RM

    Noisy Planet is a campaign by NIDCD, trying create awareness on hearing loss. Check these links below.

    November 14, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. mavsfan93

    no surprise here. How many kids do you see walking around with earphones in? Enough said.

    November 14, 2011 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. YourMom

    What? What? ...?

    November 14, 2011 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. popcorn

    WHAT?! What do you say? What?

    November 14, 2011 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. j


    November 14, 2011 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nicole M

    We all know music played too loudly can hurt your hearing, but how about those born with hearing loss like my daughter and the fact that my health insurance through work at a hospital (i am a RN) WONT cover her $1000 each hearing aid, and that doesn't include having to replace her molds every time her ear grows since the age of 7 months old.

    November 14, 2011 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Erica

      My heart goes out to you...I've had a hearing loss since the age of 5. Now, 27 years later, I've never had any health insurance coverage for my hearing aids. Luckily I've had parents who could afford my hearing aids. But with the growing number of baby boomers who need hearing aids, this should absolutely be covered by health insurance - it's a legitimate medical need, not a "want."

      November 15, 2011 at 02:41 | Report abuse |
    • Lauren B.

      So sorry, Nicole. It is scary! My son was misdiagnosed with permanent hearing loss at 3 months and again at 5 months. I had no idea how we'd pay for them at the last minute. There are TONS of programs out there to either pay for all of the aids or the majority of the cost. Check with your health department and talk to them about it. We had a fund from the state pay for our hearing aids, but the health department has a program that would pay for them and replace them however often as needed up until age 18 so long as we paid our part (which, based on my husband's income, was only $400). The income limits are generous. There is also the United Healthcare Children's fund which allows 5 or 10,000 over a lifetime for medical needs...it's just a gift...you apply for it, and hearing loss is one of the qualifying disabilities. Check it out.

      November 15, 2011 at 09:04 | Report abuse |
  15. Dustin


    November 14, 2011 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mikeA

    I've always felt that IPod and other devices like that should have a basic hearing test app. that comes standard with the device. Seems simple. (No, I don't write apps or have any financial stake in this statement! Just a common sense responsible thing to include it seems like.)

    November 14, 2011 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. JoeyE

    pretty bad for every hearing person who gets their hearing loss.. I born deaf and I don't have to worry about that.. I'm just proud to be a deaf person and still AM! American Sign Languages wins all! 😛

    November 14, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. jim

    Hearing loss isn't realted to loud volume earphones. It's a scientific fact that it's a result of masturbation.

    November 14, 2011 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shania lovee

      if you seriously think that's the reason , you're gross .. cause that is not true at all .

      November 15, 2011 at 08:44 | Report abuse |
  19. Jeff

    Seriously? If you're going to be a racist, at least use spell check so you don't really embarrass yourself.

    November 14, 2011 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. k

    "Thru" in a medical article? I know this is the internet, but really?

    November 14, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. MercuryExposure

    Published in the International Journal of Audiology
    Dental mercury amalgam fillings associated with a deterioration of high-frequency auditory acuity

    Hearing loss is by far the most common disorder of the senses, affecting more than 36 million people in the US alone. Mercury has been shown to affect the auditory system at a wide range of levels, from the cochlea to the cortex. In this study, compared were the number and surface area of different types of dental fillings with auditory thresholds in the range of .25 to 16 kHz. having more amalgam fillings was associated with a deterioration of high-frequency auditory acuity (8 kHz and above), independent of socio-economic factors. Thus, these results suggest a detrimental, dose-dependent effect of amalgams on hearing. There is also a likely duration-dependent effect. for more info visit mercuryexposure dot info

    November 14, 2011 at 23:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • paganguy

      You don't need to hear anything above 8 KHz. In fact it is annoying. I had my ears cleaned once and the high frequency noise was unbearable. Never again.

      November 15, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  22. Pat

    Ultrasound has not been proven safe for the human fetus.

    November 14, 2011 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. jj

    Time to learn Sign Language! its such fun.

    November 14, 2011 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. V Brownlee

    Another cause of hearing loss can be high dosage chemotherapy with the drug cisplatin which I needed to save my life. I now must wear a hearing aid each ear at $3,000/ear. My husband has great health care through his employer, but they won't touch any part of this.Same goes for medicare. I guess hearing everything anyone says as gobbledygoop is perfectly acceptable. Not a health problem at all.

    November 15, 2011 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • horsesmouth

      I think your story is an example of some pretty messed up healthcare in our country. Hope everything works out alright. Best of luck.

      November 15, 2011 at 00:49 | Report abuse |
    • mrbluiis

      I don't have $3,000.00 for each ear to spare. Times are tough! I'm going to advertise on Craiglist to see if any seniors have some sitting in a drawer they're not using and want to make a quick couple hundred dollars.

      November 15, 2011 at 01:05 | Report abuse |
  25. keef

    this sux. my favorite thing to do is blast the radio in my car or on my headphones in the gym. Doctors won't let me have any fun : (

    November 15, 2011 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shania lovee

      I love blasting my music too , It's just so much fun

      November 15, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse |
  26. passed

    I am one of them; just lost right ear hearing for no reason over night..... and I am in my early 40s'...

    November 15, 2011 at 00:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • horsesmouth

      Wow, sorry to hear that! Did you go to an ear specialist? What did he/she say? Lost mine temporarily a few weeks back, but luckily turned out not to be too serious, so I know how troubling it can be.

      November 15, 2011 at 00:48 | Report abuse |
    • mrbluiis

      Sorry to hear....read ....that. I'm losing mine too. I'm 45 and listened to a lot of loud music. I've got Tinitis (sp). A constant hum in my ears. Sounds like a constant guitar string being plucked. Nothing they can do. Its especially bad at night when everything is quiet.

      November 15, 2011 at 01:00 | Report abuse |
  27. paganguy

    My temporary hering loss is caused by women in bed.

    November 15, 2011 at 00:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • horsesmouth

      No means no, man.

      November 15, 2011 at 00:51 | Report abuse |
  28. foreverwar

    The good news for that one out of five Americans is that they will no longer have to hear the unbelievably stupid things that four out of five Americans say at any given moment.

    November 15, 2011 at 00:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. horsesmouth

    I'm sorry, what did you say????? All kidding aside, about a month ago, lost hearing in my left ear. Pretty scary stuff. Luckily, it turned out to be the product of cotton swabs, and doc fixed me up! My ear doctor advised me not to use them anymore, so here I am spreading the message...

    November 15, 2011 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. mrbluiis

    Who wants' an IPod for Christmas? Black or white eatbuds?

    November 15, 2011 at 00:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Ace

    Why can't they invent a quiet lawnmower? It will do a body good, for ears sake.

    November 15, 2011 at 00:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Matthew

    I am 34 years old and have almost total hearing loss in my right ear and partial in my left. I have been wearing a hearing aid since I was 5 (29 years). i lost it to spinal meningitis passed to me by someone in my daycare. So it isn't always mowers, music, yelling, etc. It can be caused by disease as well.

    November 15, 2011 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Sarah

    Due to listening to loud music and working in a loud environment, I have tinnitus really bad in my left ear. I wish i could do something to make it better, but I can't. Take care of your hearing!

    November 15, 2011 at 01:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. zulu

    They don't have hearing loss...they're just too dumb to read lips.

    November 15, 2011 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Meme

    Protect your hearing regardless of what other may think of you.

    – wear earplugs to concerts

    – use your fingers and plug your ears as firetrucks, ambulances, sirens pass by

    – keep your windows rolled up during heavy traffic and freeway driving

    – plug your ears with your fingers when kids are screaming around you and when DOGS bark

    Its okay. You shouldnt care if people think your a wimp or uncool. Do it, protect your hearing.

    November 15, 2011 at 02:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Meme

      I forgot to mention large trucks and buses. For some reason, new transit buses have extremely loud motors, their hisses are even high decibels shrieks that surprise you. If you see a bus, prepare to cover your ears, those engines seem like the ones made for air jet liners now.

      And motorcylists. Oh god, motorcyclists with their hyper-annoying loud motorcycle engines... you don't impress me dude. Cover your ears at the site of those holeasses.

      November 15, 2011 at 02:25 | Report abuse |
    • Annalisa

      A sex change is for pcyaiologihsl peace and need, many people have suicide because of not being able to get that peace, a better example would be: Isn't it a sin to take pills for it because it's man made and God gave me ADHD?Isn't it a sin to take pills because it's man made and God made me overly depressive?Christians: What if you had a child who was transgendered and threatened suicide if he/she didn't get a sex change .?

      May 24, 2012 at 11:00 | Report abuse |
  36. David

    The ads on tv kid channels are very loud. when the show ends, the ads goes on for like 15 mins straight before new show come up. Ads always longer on kid channels than any channels.

    November 15, 2011 at 02:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. 2000to2011musictrash

    All the music made after 2000 is the reason why. All the artists of today are trash: Kate Perry, Justin Beiber, Selena Gomez etc. The trash generation has arrived.

    November 15, 2011 at 03:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. savy

    Headphones are really very damaging to ears. Avoid them.

    November 15, 2011 at 03:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Phattee

    Wow, that's surprising when you consider that for the past four years we have all been exposed to that shrieking Alaskan.

    November 15, 2011 at 04:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Amy

    I was born with hearing loss, now at age 35 I am considered legally deaf. Hearing aids are expensive, but there is help. There are programs that will pay for them. Vocational Rehabilitation is one of the Organizations that help. I waited a long time to get help, and once I finally did it was almost too late.

    November 15, 2011 at 04:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. chilipepper

    I heard that one before

    November 15, 2011 at 05:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Joseph

    I'm an audiologist. It's tragic to see so many people with hearing loss that could have been prevented. If you have a hearing loss, be sure to get it checked, since some conditions can be corrected without hearing aids. Unfortunately, if you have hearing loss from noise overexposure, the damage is usually permanent if it does not recover in a day or so.

    November 15, 2011 at 05:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Merlin

    Yes and if you require hearing aids, don't be shocked at what insurance companies DON'T pay. They offer buy-up vision plans which help a great deal, but only a mere pittance for hearing aids. Why? Hearing is one of the five senses. Shouldn't it be considered as important as seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling? Nah, just turn on the "closed captioning". When insurance companies offer $300. 00 as a fair and customary price for $4000 hearing aids, they're way out of touch with reality...

    November 15, 2011 at 06:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Ray

    1 in 5 Americans HAS hearing loss, not have. How many illeterate editors does it take to write a headline?

    November 15, 2011 at 07:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. KlausVos

    Thanks, I wasn't aware that blasting music could damage my ears because I am an uninformed moron. Seriously? This article is useless. How about something about the logarithmic scale for hearing and what that means for setting volume? How about something about how the "I can hear it therefor too loud" this isn't always true (there are a ton of headphones out there, some that are louder to other people or quieter)? How about a little more info on the numbers than just 48 million total? How about some comparison to previous generations?
    Nope. Just loud = bad. Thanks CNN for another useless article. I'm going back to BBC.

    November 15, 2011 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. speakUpSonnyICantHereYou


    November 15, 2011 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shania lovee

      do they need to speak up or something ... haha just kidding .

      November 15, 2011 at 08:42 | Report abuse |
  47. glen

    i've had loss my whole life. i'd give anything to have normal hearing

    November 15, 2011 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. fireundkrash

    I've been a musician all my life, and have always worn ear protection(even s a kid). I now have severe tinnitus and partial hearing loss in one ear. WHY, you might ask?

    Because I crashed my bike one day and hurt my jaw.

    VOILA! Instant tinnitus.

    November 15, 2011 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. erich2112x

    Right, 1 out of 4 Americans have hearing loss. The rest of the world can hear just fine.

    November 15, 2011 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. bes

    Ever hear Rush's Subdivisions Live? Worth going deaf for...Neal Peart is GOD!!!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 08:51 | 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.