If you think your hearing is just fine, think again. A federal study finds that about a quarter of people between the ages of 20 and 69 who think their hearing is good or excellent are in fact showing signs of hearing loss.
Hearing loss is often chalked up to noisy work environments or to aging. To be sure, those are major reasons that people's hearing becomes less acute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest survey on hearing finds that 24 percent of hearing loss is due to loud workplaces.
"What surprised us was we found many people with evidence of noise-induced hearing damage who don't have noisy jobs, who got that damage from their home or community," says Dr. Ann Schuchat, acting director of the CDC.
Loud noises – from sirens to lawnmowers and rock concerts to sporting events – can permanently damage hearing. That damage builds up over time, and once it's lost, it's lost forever.
The study finds that the loss often starts early in life. The survey found that 20 percent of Americans in their 20s have lost some ability to hear the softest sounds.
The effect is much more pronounced in men than in women.
And a quarter of people in the survey who are losing some hearing don't know it.
"They thought their hearing was good or excellent, but many of them already had signs of hearing damage on the test," Schuchat says.
Of course, severe hearing loss is a big problem for older adults, who can find themselves socially isolated when they can't hear what people around them are saying.
But the CDC also notes that chronic exposure to noise has been associated with increased stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, distractibility and annoyance.
So if you have enough of those things already in your life, the CDC suggests it's worth your while to avoid cacophony when you can, and to wear ear protection when you can't.