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Myth: Hearing loss is unavoidable with age.
Hearing loss has many causes, including genetics, certain medications, and exposure to loud noises. Smoking and diabetes also can lead to hearing impairment. Like skin damage from sun exposure, the cumulative effect of today’s loud societies has led to a greater incidence of hearing loss that becomes increasingly apparent over a lifetime—that is, in older adults. Noise exposure is the most preventable cause of hearing loss.
Myth: Excessive noise won’t cause hearing loss.
Any sounds above 85 decibels for an extensive time can contribute to permanent noise-induced hearing loss. What does that mean? To put that into perspective, a typical conversation is around 60 decibels and is unlikely to damage your hearing. A hair dryer or a power lawnmower is 90 decibels, while an ambulance siren is 120 decibels. Regular and prolonged unprotected exposure above 85 decibels is considered hazardous. Noise-induced hearing loss can occur in work environments, like in manufacturing, construction and any environment that uses heavy machinery. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing loss to occur.
Truth: Tiny hairs in ears can affect hearing loss.
Tiny hairs in the inner ear play a huge part in the hearing process. Located inside the cochlea, these hair cells rock back and forth with the vibration of a sound and turn the vibration into electrical signals that help our brain understand the sound.7 These tiny hairs are fragile and once damaged, they cannot grow back. If sounds are too loud then the hair cells are damaged and stop transmitting sound. Damage can occur by not protecting ears from excessive sound. Wearing ear protection while doing yard work, lowering the volume on head phones and sitting farther from sound amplifiers at concerts are all examples of self-protective measures.
Myth: Hearing loss affects only older adults.
Hearing loss does not discriminate. About two-thirds of all hearing loss is in people under 65 years of age.5 Even more alarming is that today 1 in 5 teenagers (ages 12 – 19) have hearing loss in one or both ears from listening to music too loud, illness, medications or genetics. The World Health Organization has warned that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss “due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and sporting events.”6
Myth: Hearing aids are like eyeglasses.
Hearing and vision are both major senses that connect us to the world. Hearing aids and eyeglasses are frequently compared as assistive devices; however, the two can hardly be compared. Eyeglasses are a mechanism to immediately assist the eye to focus and do not require vision training to wear them. Hearing aids are responsible for helping the brain perceive pitch, duration, loudness, timbre, sonic texture and spatial location of sounds. Sounds can tell us where things are, if something is moving, how far or near an object may be, and more. Sound waves travel through a medium, such as air or water, and are captured by our ears and perceived by our brain as a sound. Sound also gives us the ability to communicate and understand spoken language. With hearing aids, the brain needs time to adjust to the sound coming through the hearing instrument. Because of each individual’s unique ability to hear various frequencies, hearing aids need to be programmed to a patient’s hearing ability. Fine-tuning may take several trips to the audiologist or hearing healthcare professional. Even the most advanced hearing aids will not restore hearing 100 percent and individuals may need auditory training to help the brain process sounds.3