April 2017

Too Loud! For Too Long! Loud Noises Damage Hearing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a new report in February describing noise-induced hearing loss and its association with socio-demographics and self-reported exposure to loud noise. Information from that report is summarized in this article.

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States. About twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer. Exposure to too much loud noise at work or with recreational activities can cause permanent hearing loss or other hearing problems like tinnitus.

Repeated insults from loud sounds over time cause more damage. Continual exposure to noise can also lead to stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems. Hearing loss often worsens over many years before anyone notices or diagnosis it. Some people delay reporting hearing loss because they do not recognize it or will not admit they struggle with hearing. Although the percentage of adults with hearing loss is growing, less than half are seeking help in a timely manner:

Healthcare providers play a critical role in supporting patients not only in preventing hearing loss but also by addressing their hearing needs more effectively during routine exams.

Healthcare providers can:

  • Ask patients about their hearing and their exposure to loud noises at work or at home as part of routine care.
  • Screen those at risk by examining their hearing.
  • Educate patients on how noise exposure can permanently
  • damage hearing.
  • Counsel patients on how to protect hearing; noise-induced
  • hearing loss is preventable.
  • Refer patients to a hearing specialist.

Healthcare providers can identify a higher risk for hearing loss if patients:

  • Work in noisy environments (noise of ≥85 dB for 8 hours or longer), or are exposed to loud sounds at home
  • Take ototoxic medications
  • Are male
  • Are ≥40 years

Healthcare providers can ask patients these important questions:

  • Do you find it difficult to follow a conversation if there is backgroud noise?
  • Can you usually hear and understand what someone says in a normal tone of voice when you can’t see that person’s face?
  • Do you feel frustrated with your hearing when talking to family or friends?
  • Are you often exposed to loud sounds, either at work or away from work?

Patients who fit the higher risk profile or who answer affirmatively to the questions above should be referred for further evaluation. Primary Care Providers are often the first healthcare professionals patients reach out to for help addressing hearing loss and can motivate patients to treat hearing loss to support better overall health. The CDC Vital Signs Report supports coordinated efforts between healthcare providers and hearing specialists to serve your patients’ hearing needs. Please visit the following websites for downloadable factsheets, tools and a special invitation to Public Health Grand rounds this summer:

  • cdc.gov/vitalsigns/HearingLoss
  • CDC Public Health Grand Rounds, “Promoting Hearing
  • Health Across the Lifespan” on June 20, 2017, 1:00 pm EDT. Registration is not required and free continuing education/contact hours are available: www.cdc.gov/ cdcgrandrounds