How do you measure the impact of hearing loss on life? According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), one way is to calculate disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). These are the number of healthy years lost due to a disease or other health condition.
For a condition like hearing loss, it doesn’t mean that a person dies younger, but rather that a person has fewer years of good health. The DALYs calculation takes into account life limitations caused by hearing loss as a lost portion of a healthy year of life, ending up with the number of healthy years lost by a group of people over a specific time period.
NIOSH used DALYs to estimate the impact of hearing loss on quality of life in a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article titled “Hearing Impairment Among Noise-Exposed Workers in the United States, 2003-2012.” The report examined noise-exposed workers because they have a higher risk of hearing loss. In the paper, the researchers estimated the number of healthy years lost for every 1,000 workers each year.
They found that 2.5 healthy years were lost each year for every 1,000 noise-exposed U.S. workers because of hearing impairment (hearing loss that impacts day-to-day activities). These lost years were shared among the 13% of workers with hearing impairment (about 130 workers out of each 1,000 workers). Mining, construction and manufacturing workers lost more healthy years than workers in other industry sectors.
Preventing hearing loss is the first line of defense in reducing the number of individuals with hearing loss. In many cases, simple over-the-counter earplugs or earmuffs that can be purchased at drugstores, hardware stores, or sporting goods stores may prevent hearing damage.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends the following to prevent hearing loss:
- Place earplugs into the ear canal so that they totally block the canal. Earplugs come in different shapes and sizes, and can also be custom made by taking an impression of the ear. Earplugs can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels (dB) depending on how they are made and fit. Proper insertion is key to better hearing protection.
- Use earmuff hearing protection that fit completely over both ears. They must fit tightly so that sound is blocked from entering the ears. Like earplugs, earmuffs can reduce noise 15 to 30 dB depending on how they are made and fit.
- Use earplugs and earmuffs together to achieve even greater sound reduction. Use of earplugs and earmuffs is recommended when noise exposure is particularly high.
- Consider custom earplugs and musicians’ plugs if you are frequently exposed to loud noises or loud music. If you are an avid hunter or a musician, be sure to talk with your audiologist about these hearing protection devices. There are even sophisticated digital hearing protection devices.
- Do not listen to loud sounds for too long. If you don’t have hearing protection, move away from the loud sound and give your ears a break.
- Lower the loudness of the sound if possible. Keep personal ear level listening devices, such as earbuds or airPods, set to no more than half volume.
Associated Audiologists also offers custom earplugs. Custom hearing protection should not be purchased over the internet without professionally obtained custom impressions. If you are interested in purchasing custom hearing protection, please schedule an appointment with one of our audiologists for a personal consultation and custom ear impressions.
Remember, prevention is the best way to continue hearing your best. For more information about custom hearing protection, schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.