The Current

Everyday sounds could be damaging your hearing, says author

New Yorker writer and author of Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World David Owen says people need to pay more attention to things that could damage their hearing because it is easier than ever to cause hearing loss with everyday activities.

New Yorker writer David Owen says human ears haven’t evolved to cope with noises that are commonplace today

New Yorker writer and author of Volume Control David Owen says it is easier than ever to cause hearing loss with everyday activities. (Laurie Gaboardi/Random House)
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From the screeching of your morning subway car to your headphones cranked up to the max during your evening workout, it is easier than ever to cause hearing loss with everyday activities, says New Yorker writer David Owen.

"Especially since the Industrial Revolution, we've produced a lot of very loud sounds — sounds that we didn't really evolve to cope with — and it's taken a toll on our hearing," Owen, author of Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World, told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"We evolved in a very different sound environment — thunderstorms and waterfalls and growling animals and things like that."

Owen says people need to pay more attention to things that could damage their hearing, and that the ripple effects of hearing loss can be enormous not only for the person who lost their hearing, but for society as a whole.

Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health problem among elderly Canadians, and it's growing. (Jeff Dixon/Lawton Constitution/Associated Press)

Natalie Phillips, a psychology professor at Concordia University and assistant director of the Canadian Consortium for Neurodegeneration in Aging, says there has long been an association between hearing loss and cognitive decline. 

"If there was a 10 decibel difference in hearing, it would be the equivalent of being two and a half years older in terms of your performance on an executive function test or close to two years older in terms of your memory performance," she said. 

Data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging also examined whether there is a link between hearing loss and social isolation. 

Owen says there is a connection between the two and recalls interviewing a woman whose mother had "terrible hearing problems."

"Although the cause of death on her death certificate was Alzheimer's disease, she said the real cause was hearing loss. Her life became so narrowed and so lonely that she basically died of that," he said.

Author David Owen says he realized that the causes of hearing loss almost happen when people are young. (Shutterstock/Dubova)

Causes for hearing loss often happen in youth

Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health problem among elderly Canadians, and it's growing. But it isn't just older people who are affected. The World Health Organization estimates that one in five teenagers has some sort of hearing loss.

And although the loss of hearing is most obvious when we're old, Owen says he realized that the causes are almost always happening in our youth. 

"I'm in my 60s now. Like many people, I'm paying the price now. But the damage was done early," he said. "The time to be aware of it is when you're young when and exposing yourself to the threats that are going to cause trouble later."

While there are a lot of people losing their sense of hearing, the Hearing Foundation of Canada says that only one in five people who need hearing aids actually uses them. 

But Owen says people are much better about their ears these days than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

"You'll see the very young children of rock stars at their concerts wearing protective earmuffs to protect their ears," he said. 

"As I walk through my neighbourhood, I'm much more likely to see the guys who are mowing lawns or using chainsaws — they're much more likely to be using hearing protection than they would have been even five or 10 years ago."


Written by Dexter Brown. Produced by Alison Masemann.

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