My brother-in-law offered me ear protection before I aimed the pistol at the target.
“I don’t think I can get any deafer, Richard,” I said.
People forget that I can hear because of my miraculous cochlear implants. The deafness part is hard for most to grasp. But Richard laughed and said, “I guess not!”
How does anyone become deaf or lose any degree of hearing?
I likely was born with hearing loss. It was discovered at age 9, and by 50 I was deaf.
The Hearing Health Foundation says I’m not alone.
In the U.S., 48 million people have hearing loss; that number is 360 million worldwide, according to the foundation.
Three in five are returning military service members. Hearing loss and tinnitus – ringing or buzzing in the ears – are the top two reported health concerns among service members, both active and veterans.
Hearing loss is the second-most prevalent health issue globally. The number of people with hearing loss is more than those living with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes combined.
Hearing loss has been associated with cognitive decline, dementia, depression, hospitalization and heart disease.
From 2000 to 2015, the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled. Globally, the number is up by 44 percent.
I guessed correctly the reason for the increase in hearing loss. The Hearing Health Foundation said hearing loss is on the rise because of increased noise – which is preventable – and our aging population.
Noise-induced hearing loss happens when people are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work or leisure activities.
Sound is measured in decibels. Sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss. Decibel levels in everyday situations include movie theaters (74-104 dBA); lawn mowers (80-100 dBA); sporting events, concerts or music through headphones (90-100 dBA); sirens (110-129 dBA); and fireworks (140-160 dBA).
Unfortunately, we don’t always have control of noise. It seems everywhere I go, a television or music is blaring. Overhead speaker announcements in stores make me jump because they are so loud.
Add general noise and voices – often shouting over noise – and the decibels rise to dangerous levels.
Robert Kambic, a retired health professional who worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the HHF, “By 2022, live music-industry revenue is projected to be worth $31 billion worldwide, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Like other industries, the money is the driver.”
“This means the live music industry will continue to use larger and louder electronic amplification,” Kambic said.
One loud concert with volume up to 120 decibels can cause permanent damage.
Hearing loss among musicians is common. Constant exposure to noise – even if it’s beautiful music – can permanently damage ears.
Cochlear implants restore hearing, but I can attest to the fact that music does not always return as it once was. Music is complicated, and implants are designed to understand speech. I have a music program on my voice processors that helps me appreciate music better, but I no longer have the ability to comprehend if I sing on pitch.
Performing is in my past. I enjoy instrumental music, play my keyboard and love to watch closed-captioned performances on television – especially songs I knew before deafness.
Other causes of hearing loss including genetic factors, trauma, ototoxic medications (medicine-induced hearing loss), and viral or bacterial infections.
Is it a hopeless fight? No.
Will the numbers keep increasing? Yes – if we don’t take action.
Buy and use earplugs and earmuffs. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. They are available at music stores, online and at hardware and other retail stores. Search “earplugs” at hhf.org for recommendations.
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month to encourage people to take protective action.
I urge each reader to turn down the noise and enjoy the quiet before that is all you hear. Treasure and protect the gift of hearing.
Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by Day column for ThisWeek Community News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.