By Tara Guastella
Last week, the New York City Department of Health announced the launch of a new public health awareness campaign. Rather than targeting oversize soft drinks or styrofoam containers, this ad campaign focuses on a very important issue: noise-induced hearing loss. The campaign warns that listening to headphones at a high volume can lead to both hearing loss and tinnitus.
The health department collected data on levels of hearing loss and found that nearly one out of four adults ages 18 to 44 who report heavy headphone use say they have hearing problems. This group was also more than twice as likely to report hearing problems than those who report light-to-moderate use or no use of headphones.
“Listening to headphones at a high volume for too long can damage your hearing,” says Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, M.D. “If you want to continue to enjoy music in the future, you’ll turn down the volume today.”
The hearing loss is permanent. Unlike birds, fish, and reptiles, humans and all mammals cannot restore their own hearing because we don’t have the ability regenerate inner ear hair cells. So when those hair cells are damaged by chronic exposure to loud sounds, our ability to hear is irreversibly compromised.
HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) is working toward a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. Our HRP consortium members are working collaboratively and sharing data on their findings in bird, zebrafish, and mouse studies. By doing so, they are able to asses how birds and zebrafish show regeneration while a mouse does not, after a very early developmental time. Other HRP research examines which cell types we are likely to need to target in damaged human ears to induce regeneration.
As our HRP researchers work toward a cure within the next decade, it is important to take precautionary steps to prevent further loss of hearing. Follow this advice from the NYC Department of Health:
Reduce the volume, limit listening time, and take regular breaks.
Never listen at maximum volume and do not turn the volume up to drown out external noise.
Use volume limiting features of personal listening devices.
Know the early signs of hearing loss and ask a doctor for a hearing test if you have trouble hearing conversation, need to turn up the volumes on TV, radio, or personal music players or experience ringing in the ear.