By David Severance, M.D. chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare of Colorado & Wyoming
Hearing loss is a significant health issue in Colorado and across the country, affecting more than 48 million people nationwide. It could become even more widespread in the coming years: more than 1.1 billion young adults worldwide at risk of developing hearing loss, according to a study by the World Health Organization.
Spurring the increased risk is more frequent exposure to loud sounds that can cause noise-induced hearing loss, including the growing popularity of earbud headphones. Hearing loss is especially common among older Americans, but younger people can also be affected. About 20 percent of people over age 12 experience some level of hearing loss.
May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a reminder for people to check their hearing health – and that of their loved ones – to help prevent the condition or, if necessary, obtain treatment. Research shows hearing loss is associated with social isolation, dementia, depression and increased risk of falls, reinforcing the fact that hearing health is crucial to overall health.
To help encourage better hearing health, consider these tips:
- Limit exposure to loud noises: People should limit their exposure to loud sounds, such as music, lawn mowers or motorcycles, to no more than 20 minutes at a time. Most Americans (82 percent) know that exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss, but just 41 percent correctly recognized that both one-time exposure to a loud sound and cumulative exposure to moderately loud sounds can harm hearing health, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.
- Opt for noise-cancelling headphones: Over-the-ear headphones, especially models with noise-cancelling properties, are generally considered a better option than earbuds. When using earbuds, follow the “60/60 rule,” which means listening for no more than 60 minutes at a time and at no more than 60 percent of the player’s maximum volume. If someone else can hear your music while you’re using earbuds, it’s an indication of excessive volume.
- Talk to a health professional and schedule a hearing test: Common signs of hearing loss include turning up the volume on the TV or radio to levels that others find too loud, having trouble hearing people on the phone, and difficulty following conversations in noisy environments. Some primary care physicians are starting to offer hearing testing, making it more convenient to follow recommended guidelines, which includes being screened at least every decade through age 50 and then at three-year intervals thereafter.
- Explore ways to save on hearing aids: Hearing aids can be expensive, but more affordable options are available. Direct-to-consumer hearing aids can enable people to save 60 percent or more compared to devices sold through traditional channels. And a growing number of health plans are offering coverage for hearing aids, including through some Medicare Advantage and employer-sponsored benefit plans.
- Use effective communication strategies – Hearing aids are more helpful when people use effective communication strategies, such as watching lip movements and facial expressions, and selecting settings that are “hearing friendly.” For example, people with hearing loss should opt for restaurants that are relatively quiet and go at times that are less busy. Another strategy is to select a table along a wall or in a corner, which will reduce background noise.
With hearing loss on the rise, now is the time for prevention and treatment. By following the above tips, people can help maintain their hearing health and help those with hearing loss live fuller, healthier lives.