Study Has Bad News for Rural Americans About Hearing Loss

When you think of the big city, you might think of loud noises coming from honking cars and construction sites. While these sounds can be detrimental to your hearing, especially if experienced up close, it turns out being out in the middle of nowhere might be even worse for your ears.

A new study published in The Lancet journal found that hearing loss affects nearly 38 million Americans and is more common in rural areas than urban ones. In addition, the researchers found that hearing loss was more prevalent in men than in women.

The scientists' most reasonable hypothesis for the phenomenon likely involves how loud noises are and how often people hear them. For example, a person in a city who rides the subway can go at least six hours before being at risk for hearing loss. By contrast, hunters who don't wear protection on their ears can damage their hearing with just a few gunshots from their rifles. Consider that other popular forms of entertainment and work in rural areas include woodworking and riding ATVs and you have a recipe for disaster.

"Higher hearing loss prevalence was associated with smaller population size," the study authors wrote of the rural hearing loss phenomenon. "West Virginia, Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Arkansas had the highest standardized rate of bilateral hearing loss, and Washington D.C., New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut had the lowest."

Location doesn't directly determine your fate when it comes to hearing loss, however. “The number one risk factor for hearing loss is age,” study lead author David Rein told The Associated Press. The highest rates of hearing loss the scientists found were among non-Hispanic white people and those 65 and older.

If you live in a rural area and are exposed to possibly damaging sounds, it might be worth it to invest in some professional-grade earmuffs.