Editorial – Hear, Hear

If It’s too loud, You’re too old. Remember that one? Well, there’s a new twist on it, but It’s one that most people don’t know: if You’re between 6 and 60, It’s too loud–and It’s probably making you deaf. It seems there’s an epidemic of hearing loss happening in Canada, and the worst part is that we’re doing it to ourselves.

It used to be that people with normal hearing started losing it because they were getting older–much older, say in their 70s or 80s–or they’d spent a lot of time working around noisy equipment. Health and safety rules weren’t the same as they are now even 20 years ago, and most people just didn’t know how much their noisy workplace would affect their life later on. That’s understandable, but sadly, the reasons that North American kids as young as 6 years old are starting to lose their hearing are entirely preventable–and there’s just no excuse for that.

The results of a 2002 survey (1) by the Canadian Hearing Society Awareness Society are staggering: 25 per cent of people with hearing loss are under 40 years old. That’s right–under 40.

The vast majority–70 per cent–are below 60. An alarming 16 per cent of kids between 6 and 19 ?have early signs of hearing loss at the range most affected by loud sounds? (1). That means teenagers; young adults in their 20s and 30s; people who at 40 still have decades of living to enjoy, are slowly, irrevocably, losing their ability to hear.

Why? Because we’ve surrounded ourselves with enough noisy gadgets to make ourselves deaf. Home entertainment systems, hair dryers, gas lawnmowers, iPods–all of them can add to your cumulative hearing loss after as little as 30 seconds. Just think of them in relation to the level of a normal conversation. That logs in at around 60 decibels. The danger zone for hearing loss starts at around 90 decibels, and your hair dryer and gas lawnmower are well into that. The teeny tiny earbuds on your iPod can be cranked up to 120 decibels, exposing you to more damaging noise levels–believe it or not–than a jackhammer or chainsaw. Movie theatres? Your guess is as good as mine, but you can bet the average sound system cranks out something upward of 140 decibels.

And each bout of exposure to loud noise is cumulative; in other words, It’s all adding up over time.

Since we’re such a short-term, instant-gratification society, It’s easy to ignore the facts. I can still hear you today, so why bother? Well, let’s just hope that there are at least a few teenagers and 20-somethings that don’t think that way. In another ten or twenty years, there are a whole lot of still-in-high-school professionals that I want to have the best hearing possible. The pilot on my plane; my doctor; 911 dispatchers; the person I call for tech support when my software won’t behave.

The solution is almost laughably simple. For the most part, we can control the gadgets that are causing us to lose our hearing younger and faster all the time, so It’s only common sense to turn them down. For things without a volume control, like hair dryers, there are disposable ear plugs.

The answer to noise-related hearing loss is–quite literally–in your hands.

(1) CBC News, 2007. ?Hearing loss: Problem nearing epidemic proportions in Canada.? Retrieved July 13, 2007, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/health/hearing-loss.html