The Surprisingly Ramifying Effects of Hearing Damage

This past spring, both the Pew trusts and the federal Centers for Disease Control issued reports about hearing loss, among Americans of all ages, as a rapidly rising public health threat, and about rising levels of ambient noise as a principal cause. Louder and louder urban life—because of sirens, machinery, traffic, even music playing in earbuds or sound in loud public spaces like restaurants—was becoming “the new second-hand smoke,” according to one source quoted in the Pew report:

Noise is “the new secondhand smoke issue,” said Bradley Vite, an anti-noise advocate who pushed for regulations in Elkhart, Indiana, that come with some of the nation’s steepest fines. “It took decades to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke. We may need decades to show the impact of secondhand noise.”

Now Jane Brody, veteran personal-health columnist for the New York Times, has an update about the surprisingly ramifying effects of hearing damage. In the popular imagination, hearing problems are often portrayed as inevitable fallibilities of age — “Grandma forgot her hearing aid, so you better talk extra loud.” By contrast, almost everyone recognizes vision-damage as a serious practical and emotional obstacle.

The sub-headline of Brody’s article is, “Poor hearing is not just an annoying inconvenience.” She explains:

Now a growing body of research by [Dr. Frank R. Lin, head of a hearing center at Johns Hopkins] and his colleagues and others is linking untreated hearing loss to several costly ills, and the time has come for hearing protection and treatment of hearing loss to be taken much more seriously….

Two huge new studies have demonstrated a clear association between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia, depression, falls and even cardiovascular diseases. In a significant number of people, the studies indicate, uncorrected hearing loss itself appears to be the cause of the associated health problem.

The story is worth reading in full, at the NYT’s site.