Why Hearing Health Is More Important Than You Might Think

It affects your well-being in ways you might not realize.

What to know about hearing health, hearing loss, and how hearing impacts your overall health.
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When it comes to your wellness routine, you likely think about the standard pillars of health: hydration, exercise, sleep, and perhaps mindfulness. Hearing health may not be on that list, but it actually has a big impact on your overall well-being — so it definitely should be.

On TikTok, hearing health has become a buzzy topic of conversation as folks uncover how important it is in ways that go beyond being able to listen to Midnights. If you’ve never thought about how healthy your ears are, you’re not alone — it’s easy to take your hearing for granted while you have it, but it’s also difficult to tell if it starts to fade. “Hearing loss happens slowly over time and we can adapt to it well until it is too significant,” Dr. Sarah Lundstrom, an audiologist and fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, tells Bustle. Similar to how your vision slowly gets blurrier as you get older, it can be tough to tell when your hearing isn’t what it used to be.

Usually, the people closest to you will be the first to notice an issue. Hearing loss can come across as poor listening skills, inattentiveness, or asking someone to repeat themselves, Lundstrom says, which is what your friends and fam might point out to you. Other early signs of hearing loss include the need to increase the volume on the TV, the onset of tinnitus or ringing in your ears, and difficulty hearing in noisy environments.

While hearing loss is more common after age 50, it can certainly happen in your 20s and 30s. “Hearing loss is much less age-related than we once thought,” Lundstrom says. “Your genetics, lifestyle, and general health all play a role in your hearing.” Below, audiologists talk about hearing health, how it can impact you — and how you can protect it.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

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According to Dr. Amy Sarow, AUD, CCC-A, the lead audiologist at Soundly, a source for hearing research, most people could benefit from more awareness when it comes to hearing health. “We are seeing an increase in the number of young people with noise-induced hearing loss,” she tells Bustle. The American Osteopathic Association estimates that one in five young people today will develop hearing loss, notes Sarow, which is a 30% increase in hearing loss compared to 20 years ago.

One big issue is headphone use, as they can easily pump 110 decibels of loud music straight into your ears. “This volume can cause damage to the inner ear in just a matter of minutes,” Sarow says. “Fortunately, there are some technologies that incorporate warnings or alerts around headphone volume, such as Apple Health.” If you have an iPhone or Apple Watch, can check your headphone audio levels in the health app throughout the week to see how you’re doing.

Loud concerts can also do some damage, as can noisy work environments. “Most hearing loss is caused by wear and tear over time, but other causes can be genetic, noise exposure, illness, or medication side effects,” notes Lundstrom. If you think your ears have taken a hit, you’ll want to schedule an appointment for a hearing evaluation.

How Hearing Affects Your Health

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As Sarow notes, hearing is an important part of your overall well-being — especially since people are social creatures. “It’s so essential to your mental health to have conversation and connection with others,” she says. If you have untreated hearing loss, she says it can make everyday chats and convos tough to follow, and that frustration can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation.

If your hearing loss is significant enough, Lundstrom says it could put your safety at risk. It’s important to be able to hear smoke alarms, timers, sirens, phone calls, and even people’s voices as a way to stay aware of your surroundings.

Loud sound exposure is also a stressor for the body, Sarow says. If you live near a busy road, if you travel a lot on planes, or if you’re exposed to similar loud noises for an extended period of time, it can start to spike your cortisol levels, especially if you experience noise sensitivity. This, in turn, can lead to fatigue, headaches, concentration problems, and increased blood pressure.

According to Dr. Jenn Schumacher, the audiologist for hearing aid company ReSound US, many studies have also found possible links between hearing loss and cognitive decline, including an increased risk of dementia. That’s why it’s so important to not only take care of your health while you’re young, but to do something about hearing loss as you get older.

How To Protect Your Hearing

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Prevention is key when it comes to protecting your ears. “Most sounds in our environment are not hazardous to your hearing health, but prolonged exposure to loud sounds, or sudden very loud sounds, can cause hearing loss,” Lundstrom says. It’s why it’s so important to limit your exposure to excess noise and to wear hearing protection like earplugs.

If you live, work, or hang out in noisy areas where sound exceeds 80 decibels — which is equivalent to a busy road with heavy traffic, a loud restaurant, or the sound of a blender — that’s your sign to take a break, step away to a quieter area, turn down the volume, or pop in some earplugs, Sarow says.

Besides concerts and loud work environments, Sarow recommends wearing earplugs at sporting events, when mowing the lawn, or when using power tools. “Earplugs blunt the effect of loud sounds, which helps reduce the noise dose that reaches the inner ear and prevents noise-induced hearing loss,” she says.

It’s also worth it to keep an eye on the volume level on your phone. According to Lundstrom, safe listening levels are around 70 decibels (dB) or about 70% on your phone’s sliding volume scale. “Listening at 80dB for eight hours or more can cause hearing loss over time,” she says. “The louder the sound, the less time you can listen.” Sarow offers a rule of thumb: If you can’t hear someone talking next to you, it means your volume is too high.

To take care extra care of your hearing health, Lundstrom recommends getting a check-up to establish a hearing baseline and then rechecking every one to two years, especially if you have a family history of hearing loss. It’s also worth asking your doctor about hearing-related side effects to medications and getting hearing aids if need be.

“Despite knowing you have hearing loss, most people wait years before moving forward with treatment, and less than 50% of those who would benefit from hearing aids actually move forward with treatment,” Lundstrom says. While it can be tough to admit you need hearing aids, your hearing health is worth it.

Studies referenced:

Anastasiadou, S. (2023). In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542323/.

Beutel, ME. (2016). Noise Annoyance Is Associated with Depression and Anxiety in the General Population- The Contribution of Aircraft Noise. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155357.

Chung, JH. (2005). Evaluation of noise-induced hearing loss in young people using a web-based survey technique. doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-0173.

Grossan M. (2023). In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430809/.

Hahad, O. (2019). nvironmental Noise-Induced Effects on Stress Hormones, Oxidative Stress, and Vascular Dysfunction: Key Factors in the Relationship between Cerebrocardiovascular and Psychological Disorders. Oxid Med Cell Longev. doi: 10.1155/2019/4623109.

McCormack, A. (2013). Why do people fitted with hearing aids not wear them? Int J Audiol. doi: 10.3109/14992027.2013.769066.

Nadhimi, Y. (2021). Does hearing loss lead to dementia? A review of the literature. Hear Res. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2020.108038.

Reynolds, A. (2023). Music as a unique source of noise-induced hearing loss. Hear Res. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2023.108706.

Young, A. (2023). Genetic Hearing Loss. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 35593825.

Zaman, M. (2022). Environmental noise-induced cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health disorders: a brief review. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. doi: 10.1007/s11356-022-22351-y.


Dr. Sarah Lundstrom, audiologist, fellow of the American Academy of Audiology

Dr. Amy Sarow, AUD, CCC-A, lead audiologist at Soundly

Dr. Jenn Schumacher, audiologist for ReSound US