Although we commonly associate hearing loss with old age, it can affect almost anybody. Hearing loss isn’t always genetically predetermined but rather depends on a range of environmental factors which make it more likely.

What are these factors? And who is most at risk of hearing loss?

People exposed to loud noises as part of their work

Some jobs are noisier than others. People who work in manufacturing, construction, the military and in entertainment are at a much higher risk of developing early-onset hearing loss than the general population. People in construction, for instance, are more exposed to loud noises, such as those from a pneumatic drill. Military personnel are exposed to the sound of jet aircraft and exploding ordinance. And entertainers, like DJs, regularly listen to live music at high volumes.

Loud noises can damage several sensitive parts of the ear. High-volume sounds, for instance, can damage the delicate cell hairs that pick up sounds in the inner ear, causing a permanent loss of hearing. Sudden, loud noises can also cause damage to the eardrum, hampering its ability to transmit sounds from the ear canal.

The best way to prevent occupational hearing loss is to wear earplugs and good-quality headphones.

People who listen to loud music

Many of today’s music devices come with warnings when you turn the volume up above a certain threshold. However, some people choose to listen to loud music above the recommended safe level for a prolonged period, which could cause long-term damage to their ears.

You can avoid listening to music at high volumes by choosing noise-canceling headphones. These headphones allow you to listen to music at a lower volume while simultaneously removing extraneous sounds. Similarly, audiologists recommend those who enjoy listening to music through headphones follow the 60/60 rule: listen to music at 60 percent of the volume for no longer than 60 minutes at a time.

People who have been injured

A common reason for hearing loss is head injury. Head injuries can damage the part of the brain responsible for processing the sound coming in through the ears. Damage to the auditory cortex can lead to temporary hearing loss in some people.

Injury can also damage some of the delicate machinery in the inner ear itself. Concussions, for instance, can cause damage to the eardrum and the nerves which transmit sound information from the inner ear to the brain.

An audiologist will be able to tell you whether your hearing loss is caused by injury through careful examination of the ear.

People suffering from certain illnesses

High fevers, meningitis and ear infections can all lead to temporary hearing loss. High temperatures, for instance, can affect the blood flow to the ear. And ear infections can result in inflammation or blockages that prevent the ear from working as it would under normal circumstances.

People with advanced years

Finally, older people are at a higher risk of hearing loss, regardless of lifestyle choices. Older adults can mitigate their risk by avoiding loud noises, eating healthily and avoiding injury, but the chances of developing hearing loss rise with each passing year.

Older adults should seek the help of an audiologist if they suspect that they might have hearing loss. Audiologists can provide treatment (usually in the form of a hearing aid) to prevent further hearing decline.