Excerpt: 'Save Your Hearing Now'

If you are middle-aged or older, you know the frustration of mistaking or missing out on important details of a conversation.

And if you are in your 20s or 30s, you know too the frustration of speaking to hearing-impaired parents, grandparents and great aunts and uncles in the hope that they will understand even some of what you are saying. In his new book, "How to Save Your Hearing," Dr. Michael D. Seidman reveals why our hearing is more at risk today than it was in centuries past, and gives tips on how to protect it.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Chapter 1

THE MANY TOLLS OF HEARING LOSS

"I like your watch. What kind is it?"

"About quarter to three."

"The chicken looks good. Do you want white meat or thighs?"

"Oh, no fries for me, thanks."

"The lawyer said he can see you tomorrow. Is three okay?"

"Sure . . . but why is it free?"

Most of us have had little misunderstandings when words weren't heard correctly. But when these incidents become a regular part of the day, hearing loss could be to blame. The best way to determine how well hearing is working is by having an evaluation by a hearing professional -- starting with an otolaryngologist/head and neck surgeon (also known as an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT) and an audiologist. But here are a few signs that may help determine whether it's time to make that appointment:

People often have to repeat themselves when speaking to you, or you think that others are mumbling when they speak.

You find yourself straining to hear conversations in public places, especially when there is background noise.

When the television volume or music is loud enough for you to hear comfortably, it is too loud for others in the room.

Errors have occurred because information or instructions were not heard correctly.

Telephone conversations are difficult because it's hard to hear the other party.

You fail to hear the doorbell, kitchen timer, alarm clock, or other appliance.

Today, more people than ever before are dealing with hearing loss. In fact, the numbers are staggering -- more than 30 million baby boomers, another 9 million seniors, and some 2 million young people. Worldwide, the numbers soar to 500 million -- including 70 million Europeans—making hearing loss the number one disability in the world.

Hearing's Two Worst Enemies: Aging and Noise

The epidemic levels of hearing loss can be explained partially by the fact that we are living longer and aging takes a toll on hearing. But there is a second, more dangerous hearing enemy at work, too -- noise. If you think about the world we live in, this steep increase in hearing loss is not surprising. Each and every day, the average person is assaulted by an extraordinary amount of noise. In many cases, the sources are convenience devices and appliances we depend on -- hair dryers, garbage disposals, sound-producing toys, personal music players, lawn mowers, and vacuum cleaners, to name only a few.

Sound researchers have measured the intensity of many everyday noises and made some surprising conclusions. For example:

Young people often drive cars with stereo systems that can be as noisy as a jet during takeoff.

Movie sound tracks blasting from theaters' multispeaker systems rival the sound levels of power saws.

The roar of a garbage disposal is nearly as earsplitting as a tractor engine.

Hair dryers can blow away sandblasters, in terms of volume.

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