It’s not unusual for people above age 60 to lose their hearing, but it’s not inevitable. Yet you may be surprised to learn that young adults can also be at risk for hearing loss. Losing your hearing in your 20s could happen for any number of reasons. But two common causes can lead to mild hearing loss, with some individuals experiencing a moderate or severe reduction in hearing. So why does this occur, and what can we do to prevent it? Keep reading to learn more about its causes—plus some steps you can take now to retain as much of your normal hearing as possible.
Losing Hearing in Your 20s or 30s? It Might Be Otosclerosis
Some young adults begin experiencing hearing loss while in their 20s or 30s. These cases can result from otosclerosis, a disease that may lead to middle ear hearing loss. Medical professionals have noticed that it runs in families, so one of your relatives may already have this condition.
There’s other evidence that prior measles infections, stress fractures to inner ear bone tissue, or some immune disorders may play a role in its development. More studies are needed to establish any reliable link.
What Is Otosclerosis? Who Is At Risk?
Adults with hearing loss from otosclerosis have problems with one of the three bones inside the inner ear. Sound is conveyed through the eardrum and these bones: the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. Also known as the stapes, the stirrup bone helps link the middle ear and inner ear.
Otosclerosis happens when the stirrup cannot vibrate and convey sound to the inner ear. This bone can become “stuck” in place thanks to bony deposits around its base. These deposits can accumulate over time, so you may not notice a problem until you have difficulty hearing.
Otosclerosis typically begins in a person’s 20s, 30s, or 40s. While all genders can be affected, women have a slightly higher chance than men. White people are the most commonly affected, with about 10% of the population developing the condition.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Otosclerosis
Otosclerosis can be diagnosed at any stage. Typically, diagnosis may require a hearing specialist and an audiologist. That’s because both a hearing test and an ear exam are needed during the process. If your hearing is only mildly impacted, your specialist may ask you for periodic visits to monitor the disease’s progress.
Fortunately, people with otosclerosis do have some treatment options. Many with moderate or severe hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. They’re commonly prescribed as a pair, so you’d wear one hearing aid in each ear.
Some individuals may be ideal candidates for stapedectomy. This type of surgery replaces the original stirrup bone with an artificial one. Most stapedectomies take place in outpatient surgical centers with the patients under anesthesia. These surgeries usually have a 90% success rate.
Hearing Loss at 20? The CDC Says It’s More Common Than You Think
Loud sounds are another common cause for people in their 20s to lose their hearing. According to the CDC, noise-induced hearing loss occurs in between 10 to 40 million adults in the United States. Even younger people aren’t immune—around 17% of American teens may have early signs of NIHL. It’s a serious problem, but it’s also preventable. Learning about NIHL and its causes can help you avoid loss of hearing.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Frequent and repeated exposure to noise that’s above recommended safety levels can cause you to lose your hearing. Some occupational and recreational activities put you in environments with loud noises—and those can significantly increase your risk. But how loud is too loud? Let’s take a look at average noise levels for some common scenarios:
- Normal conversation: 60 to 70 decibels
- Movie theater sound: 74 to 104 decibels
- Motorcycles and motocross bikes: 80 to 110 decibels
- Sporting events, concerts, and headphone music at max volume: 94 to 110 decibels
- Emergency response vehicle sirens: 110 to 129 decibels
- Fireworks: 140 to 160 decibels
What Are the Effects and Signs of NIHL?
The degree of hearing loss depends on the intensity and frequency of noise exposure. But how can it cause you to lose your hearing? The key lies inside your ear. Sound travels down your ear canal, a narrow passageway that ends at your eardrum and middle ear bones. Those bones produce fluid vibrations in the cochlea, producing waves that move sensory hair cells on its basilar membrane. Hair cells help trigger electrical signals, picked up by the auditory nerve, traveling to the brain. Once our brains convert these signals, we hear them as sounds.
Repeated exposure to intense loud noises can damage or even kill off these sensory hair cells. That’s when hearing abilities can diminish, and you may notice some signs of hearing loss:
- Muffled or distorted sounds
- Impaired ability to understand speech
- Turning up the TV or music volumes
What Is Age-Related Hearing Loss?
As some adults get older, they may experience age-related hearing loss. Several factors can contribute to its development—age, noise exposure, genetics, and even chronic illnesses like diabetes. Also known as presbycusis, this type of hearing loss develops slowly and progressively in both ears. We can often write it off as just something that comes with age, but leaving it untreated could impact our quality of life.
Can I Prevent Age-Related Hearing Loss?
Some factors that affect presbycusis are out of your control—for instance, genetics. But you can take steps to slow it down or lessen its severity. You can steer clear of loud noises, especially those with sustained high decibel levels. When you cannot avoid those environments, you can wear earplugs. Fluid-filled earmuffs are an alternative if you can’t tolerate plugs inside your ears.
How Can I Tell If I Have a Hearing Problem?
Hearing impairment is an individual and subjective experience. Sometimes, changes in our hearing can be so subtle that we don’t notice them. Or we may dismiss them as insignificant. But this can delay detection of hearing loss and limit your possible treatment options. Besides the obvious struggles with understanding speech or music, you may find yourself avoiding social situations or even “checking out” of conversations. This impacts your daily life, potentially leading to social isolation.
Understanding Your Options
Hearing impairments can develop for many reasons: chronic diseases, genetics, long-term exposure to loud sounds, and sudden injuries. Understanding how each impacts your hearing is the first step. Depending on your situation, you can take preventative measures—limiting your loud noise exposure, for example. Yet sometimes, we cannot control how or when we develop hearing impairments.
No matter what caused your hearing impairment, seeking help can provide access to treatment options that best fit your needs. An evaluation is the first step to improving your quality of life. Let Memorial Hearing help you take that first step. We specialize in hearing evaluations, custom earplugs, hearing aid services, and more. Schedule a hearing exam by completing our contact form or call 713-984-7562.
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