According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hearing loss is the third most commonly reported chronic health condition in the United States. Almost twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer. And, while most of us enjoy issue-free hearing well into middle age and beyond, CDC’s Feb. 2017 “Vital Signs” report showed that millions of Americans who think they have excellent hearing actually have some hearing damage.

A startling report

The report found that about 53 percent of adults with noise-induced hearing damage reported no job exposure to loud sounds. This damage — shown by a distinctive drop in the ability to hear high-pitched sounds — appeared as early as age 20. It also found that one in four adults ages 20 to 69 who reported good to excellent hearing already have some hearing loss. And almost one in five adults who reported no job exposure to noise showed hearing damage indicative of noise exposure.

The age factor

"Almost twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer."

So if it’s not on-the-job noise, what causes the exposure? Leaf blowers, lawn mowers, aircraft engines, loud concerts and loud music heard through ear buds or headphones are a just a few of the common culprits. But the facts are clear that aging is a critical factor, too. Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60 to 69 age group. The presence of hearing loss increases with age, from about one in five (19 percent) among young adults ages 20-29 to more than one in four (27 percent) among adults ages 50-59. Hearing loss is also more common among men and people over the age of 40.

An action plan

The National Association of Specialty Health Organizations’ Hearing Network Alliance encourages all Americans to get their hearing and their family’s hearing tested regularly by a licensed audiologist — it’s the only way to know for sure if your hearing has been damaged. If appropriate, get fitted by a hearing specialist for a hearing aid. Hearing aids can measurably treat 95 percent of all hearing loss, and with proper fitting their use can improve productivity, health and quality of life.

Healthy hearing promotes overall well-being at every stage of life. Untreated hearing loss is associated with social isolation, a 40 percent accelerated risk of dementia and cognitive decline, a threefold increase in risk of falling and depression, and a host of other health problems.