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Is that Right? Loud music ruined baby boomers' hearing?

After years of being told that the loud music we listened to in our youth would make us deaf, we baby boomers can take comfort in a new study that provides evidence that Led Zeppelin didn't permanently damage our eardrums after all.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that rates of hearing loss have actually been decreasing over the past decades. The authors suggest the improvement may lbe due largely to reductions in smoking (the cardiovascular effects of which can contribute to hearing loss) and better management of workplace noise. It's exposure to that kind of long-term, environmental noise that's most apt to harm hearing, the authors note.

The study analyzed data for 5,275 people born between 1902 and 1962, comparing the incidence of hearing loss in later years among those born earlier (the parent group) and a group of their offspring (a cohort roughly coinciding with the baby-boom generation). They found that as the younger folks advanced in age, they maintained good hearing far longer than their elders had as they aged.

From the news release announcing the January 15 publication of the research in the American Journal of Epidemiology:

"Generally people think that our world is getting noisier and noisier, but we found that the prevalence of hearing loss is decreasing," says Dr. Weihai Zhan, who led the study. "These results suggest that hearing loss is not a normal part of aging and there are things we can do to delay hearing loss."
In the news release, the authors note that short-term noise exposure such as may occur at a concert (or when listening to recorded music with the volume set to 11) generally causes just temporary hearing loss. As they note in the study, though, it remains to be seen whether frequent use of earbuds among today's young people may cause permanent loss of hearing.

I'm so happy to hear this news, I'm going to go dance around the kitchen to some White Stripes songs on my iPod. Really loud.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 29, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Aging , Chronic Conditions , General Health , Is That Right? , Seniors , Teens  
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Next: The Surgeon General gets it right


This is good news and bad news. Read about it here:

Posted by: eljefe54 | January 29, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, smoking causes hearing loss not loud music. Thank you, science.

Posted by: jlstillman | January 29, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I listened to loud music in live club and concert situations for years, and sometines with headphones. I just paid $4k for my hearing aids. Don't believe what they are saying lets you turn up the volumn. You won't know until it's too late. Hearing loss is going to be the iPods legacy for the current generation of young people.

Posted by: tojo45 | January 29, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I should add, it's a little irresponsible for a column labeled "Health Check" to allow one study to say to readers "throw caution to the wind." I'm sure there are lots of studies that showed cigarettes were not a problem.

Posted by: tojo45 | January 29, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I should have noted that I listen to my iPod on a dock with speakers, without earphones. I do mention in the blog that the study says we still don't know how young people's use of earbuds will affect their future hearing. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | January 29, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Earbuds/headphones on your iPod/portable, regardless of quality of bass response, cannot replicate the physical impact of bass sounds through speakers or live. Therefore, people may turn up their volume too loud in a fruitless attempt to get enough bass. That volume can cause trouble.

Posted by: ClarkKent1 | January 29, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

It's the rock and roll musicians who end up with the hearing loss.

Posted by: cmckeonjr | January 29, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I have had hearing problems for many years. I wonder whether my Type 2 diabetes could be part of the cause.

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Posted by: jimpurdy | January 30, 2010 1:54 AM | Report abuse

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