Our own bad habits and environmental noise pollution can cause hearing loss. In Australia, Dr Eric Le Page is predicting an epidemic of hearing loss in young people (Lancet, 1994; 344: 675). Using the otoacoustic emission test, which he says is far superior to conventional testing, he surveyed 6000 individuals from newborns to pensioners. He says that young people's ears are aging three times faster than the ears of their parents; the ears of today's average 15 year old are as damaged as the average 45 year old's. Within the next 10 years, 51 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women will complain of impaired hearing. In 20 years' time, he predicts those proportions will rise to 78 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively (the present levels are 30 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively).
Why are more men than women affected? The reason, says Dr Le Page, is "that whole macho thing" of guns, headbanging, loud music and a higher likelihood of head injuries. Also more men than women work in noisy industries such as construction, transport, coal mining.