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Johns Hopkins Health - Staying Tuned
Issue No. 2
Date: September 24, 2008
10 or 20 years ago it was loud rock concerts. Today it’s MP3s and iPods. It all adds up to a potential epidemic of hearing loss for people of all ages
In the past, hearing loss was associated with the elderly. But not so today, says otolaryngologist John Niparko, M.D., director of Johns Hopkins Hearing and the Johns Hopkins Listening Center. In fact, hearing loss is increasingly prevalent, and not caused so much by an aging society as exposure to machine-generated noise and entertainment devices.
Recipe for Disaster
“Regular exposure to motor-driven noise was unusual before World War II,” Niparko says. “Now, almost everyone in our generation has grown up with lawn mowers, leaf blowers and entertainment devices like iPods and MP3 players.”
Basically, we’ve got the sort of constant sound stimulation that places a heavy burden on our ears, Niparko says.
When you consider that kids as young as 7 or 8 years old are donning earphones for music, it’s a recipe for auditory disaster.
“That prolonged exposure appears to be producing permanent hearing loss in younger and younger age groups,” Niparko says.
Fortunately, the same new technology that is revolutionizing computers as well as some of our favorite toys—cell phones, laptops and the like—is helping to restore our hearing.
Digital hearing devices, implantable hearing aids and cochlear implants are among the newest generation of tools that produce cleaner signals than they did just two years ago. Traditional hearing aids, for example, are much less noticeable and resemble cell phone attachments.
Bone-anchored hearing aids are implantable devices that expand the field of sound for people with single-sided deafness. And, today’s cochlear implants can pick up more of the dynamic pitches of a human voice and separate the speaker from the background noise.
“What we have now are smarter, faster and smaller options for treating hearing loss,” Niparko says.
Not going to give up your portable music or video device? You may want to consider custom earphone molds that conform to the unique shape of your inner ear. They’re relatively inexpensive, work with your existing device wires and can block outside noise to allow for better listening quality.
When you’re blocking outside noise, you don’t have to turn up the sound on your device, which reduces your risk for hearing loss down the road.
For more information about hearing loss and hearing restoration, visit us at hopkinsmedicine.org/hearing or call 877-546-1872 for a hearing evaluation.