surprising facts and popular myths about our hearing

July 15, 2015


surprising facts and popular myths about our hearing

The ability to hear is such an integral part of our lives that most people take it for granted. The importance of good hearing and the consequences of hearing loss are still underestimated even though 15% of the adult world population is affected by hearing loss.

Is hearing loss always a question of age?

Aging is by no means the only cause of hearing loss, but it is the most common. Our ability to hear continuously deteriorates with age, and more than half of people suffer from hearing loss by the time they reach the age of around 80. The second most common cause of hearing loss is everyday noise: long periods of exposure to sound from audio devices, noise in the workplace, or road traffic can damage our hearing. Blast trauma, disease, and inflammation can also trigger hearing loss.

Is hearing loss irreversible?

In most cases, hearing loss is irreversible; although medical intervention can help in the case of hearing loss in the outer or middle ear caused by, for example, a build-up of earwax, inflammation, or a hole in the eardrum. Nevertheless, once the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear have been damaged, they are no longer able to transmit impulses to the auditory nerve and the brain. That is why it is essential that we protect our hearing.

Is hearing loss always genetic?

According to the children’s charity UNICEF, more than 665,000 children are born with hearing loss each year. In around half of those cases, the cause of hearing loss is genetic. Studies also indicate that the risk of suffering from congenital hearing loss is higher among sections of the population in which marriage to (distant) relatives is common for traditional reasons.

Can smoking cause hearing loss?

The risk of losing your sense of hearing increases with each cigarette you smoke. In general, smokers have an almost 70% higher chance of damaging their hearing than non-smokers. Passive smoking also increases the risk of hearing loss: Non-smokers who live with a smoker are almost twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who live in a smoke-free household.

Does listening to loud music cause hearing loss?

When listening to music through headphones, in clubs or at live concerts, volumes can quickly get up to 100 dB or higher – which roughly corresponds to the level of noise generated by a jackhammer heard from a few meters away. Listening to excessively loud music is therefore the main reason why the number of young people affected by hearing loss has risen significantly in the last few years.

Can noise kill people?

Exposure to extremely high sound levels of around 200 dB or more can be fatal. In these cases, death is actually caused by the air sacs in the lungs bursting rather than by the destruction of the hearing mechanism. However, it is very rare for people to be exposed to noise at a volume of 180 dB or higher. Even low-flying military aircraft “only” put a strain of 125 dB on a person’s hearing, while a loud bang can reach up to 140 dB.

Does hearing loss just make everything become quieter?

Many people affected by hearing loss have difficulty making those around them understand what hearing loss “sounds” like – after all, it is not as simple as everything just becoming quieter. Gradual hearing loss usually starts with the inability to hear high-frequency sounds. This means that certain speech sounds, particularly the consonants P, K, F, H, T, and S, and the sibilant “sh,” can no longer be perceived, so spoken words sound increasingly unclear or muffled. Some frequencies can no longer be heard if the inner hair cells have been destroyed, leading to a reduction in frequency resolution. Some people with hearing loss therefore describe their hearing as “distorted.”

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