Personal Health

Firecracker Alert: Hearing Damage on the Rise Among Younger Americans

Did you know how easily loud noises can hurt your ears?

With Fourth of July firecrackers, lawnmowers and outdoor concerts, summer can bring lots of noise, and some of it can be harmful to your hearing. Trust me, I know. I have had ringing in my right ear for 9 months following a mishap with sound equipment during a video shoot. The noise lasted only seconds; the aggravation seems to be with me to stay. I have to run a fan in the background when I'm concentrating on writing because the pulsating sound is distracting. Quiet is no longer quiet for me.

Millions of Americans suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, and researchers say that for younger people, the problem is getting worse. According to Natalie Wyatt, an audiologist at the Jackson Hearing Center in Wyoming, physicians are treating more people under the age of 65 for premature hearing loss.

The National Institute of Health reports that around 15 percent of Americans ages 20 to 69 have suffered high-frequency hearing loss related to occupational or leisurely activities. You may not realize you're one of them until 20 years down the road, because damage often does not appear right away.

Continued exposure to loud noises are the worst for your ears, but even a single blast from fireworks or a gunshot can do damage. Hearing loss happens when a loud noise impacts the hair cells inside your ear that transmit neural impulses. The sad news is that once hearing is damaged, it can’t be reversed. In addition to hearing loss, loud noise exposure can lead to hypertension and heart disease.

Doctors say that personal listening devices and ear buds are having a negative impact on our ears. On top of that, noise levels in gym classes have steadily gone up, doing more to hurt your ears than motivate. In cities like New York, waiters suffer from migraines and tinnitus from the constant roar of amplified music and voices bouncing off metal in restaurants.

So grab the earplugs, and keep them handy in your purse or pocket so you can easily pop them in for things like loud advertisements or explosion scenes in summer movies. You can even have super-comfy ones custom-made. Lower the volume, move away from noise sources, and leave the fireworks to professionals. And remember, if the person you are trying to talk to is within arm's length and you have to shout to be heard, your environment is too noisy. Get outta there.