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The Earbud Epidemic

A new study shows that one in five Americans, 20%, has some form of hearing loss. That is a huge number and much larger than anyone had previously thought. According to the study, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that means 48 million Americans hear so poorly that they cannot understand a companion in a crowded restaurant. Until this study, estimates had been that the number of Americans with this level of hearing loss was less than half the number found or under 10%.

The study looked at Americans 12 years and older who have had their hearing tested rather than previous studies that relied on self-reported data. This study used the World Health Organization’s definition for hearing loss, which is not being able to hear sounds of 25 decibels or less at the frequencies for speaking. And it found that of those 20%, 13% had hearing loss at that level in both ears. The remainder had it in just one.

The study draws no conclusions about the reasons for this – nor does it state that this is something that has changed over time. It is well known that people’s hearing deteriorates over time and it is also well-known that people can damage their hearing by listening to sounds at inappropriate volume levels for periods of time. That’s why people protect their ears when working with loud machinery, etc.

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