Cosmopolitan (Philippines) - - Contents -

Are you at risk for hear­ing loss?

An alarm­ing num­ber of twenty-some­things have ir­re­versible hear­ing dam­age. Lis­ten up, be­fore it’s too late.

You prob­a­bly shield Your skin

with SPF and your eyes with sun­nies, but how of­ten do you grab earplugs be­fore hit­ting a con­cert? The an­swer is: likely not enough. One in five Amer­i­cans ages 20 to 29 al­ready has hear­ing dam­age, ac­cord­ing to new re­search pub­lished by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC). And 1.1 bil­lion young peo­ple world­wide are at risk for hear­ing loss, per the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Most of the af­fected don’t even know it—which is dis­tress­ing, since once you’ve lost any part of your hear­ing, it’s gone for­ever.

The cul­prit is, not sur­pris­ingly, tech­nol­ogy and the ways we use it. To­day’s ear­buds may stay put dur­ing a run, but they cause more harm than tra­di­tional over-ear headphones. “Ear­buds fo­cus the noise right into your eardrum,” says Yu­lia Car­roll, MD, se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Na­tional Cen­ter for En­v­i­ron men­tal Health at the CDC, “so the ef­fect on your hear­ing is stronger.”

Mean­while, 40 per­cent of young peo­ple ages 12 to 35 are reg­u­larly ex­posed to dan­ger- ous noise lev­els at con­certs and sport­ing events. Night­clubs and bars pump mu­sic at in­tense vol­umes. And those cranked beats that get you through cy­cling class? They may do won­ders for your butt, but they’re wreck­ing your ears (re­search shows that some work­out classes reach 94 deci­bels [db], higher than the rec­om­mended noise-ex­po­sure limit of 85 db).

Wher­ever you are, if noise is pre­vent­ing you from hear­ing a friend stand­ing a few feet away, it’s prob­a­bly caus­ing dam­age, says Dr. Car­roll. We’re born with around 16,000 hair cells in each in­ner ear that help con­vert sound waves into elec­tri­cal sig­nals for the brain. Th­ese cells bend when ex­posed to sound, then straighten. But they’re like blades of grass: Step on them once and they bounce back; crush them con­stantly and you’ll kill the lawn. Tram­pled hair cells don’t re­gen­er­ate.

One small bit of good news: noise-in­duced hear­ing loss is tied to both vol­ume and du­ra­tion. That means you’d have to lis­ten to some­thing at 85 deci­bels for eight straight hours to cause dam­age (see “How Loud Is Too Loud?”). At lev­els over 100 db, your win­dow shrinks to 15 min­utes.

I blared the clash and David Bowie in high school and joined a rock band at eight. My ears would ring for days af­ter prac­tice, but in my 20s, I didn’t think twice about it. At 30, I be­gan hav­ing trou­ble tun­ing into con­vos with friends and col­leagues. When baris­tas in my neigh­bor­hood re­peated my or­der back to me, I’d just smile and nod. I thought ev­ery­one around me just needed to speak up. Mean­while, I watched Strangerthings with sub­ti­tles be­cause I couldn’t hear the di­a­logue.

Even­tu­ally, an au­di­ol­o­gist con­firmed that my muf­fled hear­ing and the con­stant ring­ing in my ears were a di­rect re­sult of the years I’d spent blast­ing (and mak­ing) high­vol­ume mu­sic. I cried when he told me. I now use hear­ing aids—but to my happy sur­prise, they’re not old-school gi­ant tan plas­tic con­trap­tions. They’re nearly in­vis­i­ble. Not one per­son has ever asked me about them.

Th­ese days, I keep the mu­sic down to avoid fur­ther dam­age. At night, when all is quiet, I still lis­ten to the sound of my ears ring­ing.

—Dana such ow, as told to les­lie gold man

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