We’ve heard a lot about hearing loss in recent years. Young people in particular have been warned repeatedly about the risks associated with listening to headphones at high volumes. While plenty of audiologists have issued dire warnings about widespread hearing loss among American adults, a new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology suggests people are actually taking better care of their ears than they have in the past.
The authors of the study analyzed hearing-test results from a 2011 federal health survey of more than 3,800 Americans between the ages of 20 to 69. They then compared those results against adults in the same age range who were surveyed between 1999 and 2004. Whereas 16 percent of people in the earlier group had hearing loss, just 14 percent of survey participants in 2011 were hearing impaired. This 2 percent dip might not be a huge improvement, but it is certainly a promising development.
Study co-author Gregory Flamme attributes the drop in hearing impairment rates to a few different factors. To begin with, years of public health campaigns to raise awareness about hearing loss prevention techniques may finally be paying off. More employers are also requiring workers in noisy environments to wear hearing protection than they have in years past. Plus, fewer people are working in loud environments like manufacturing plants than they did during the 20th century. Generally speaking, Americans have simply become more aware of what causes hearing loss, and what they can do to prevent it.
The results of this study might be promising, but its authors are quick to point out that there’s still plenty of room for improvement. So what types of things still pose a persistent threat to hearing health in America?
“Things like firearm use,” said Flamme in an interview with NPR. “That’s also preventable as a source of hearing impairment. These things can create a permanent hearing loss instantly.”
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