Whether it comes from listening to a lot of loud noise, or just getting older, even the slightest hearing loss can be a major problem.
"Once an individual loses their hearing, it does not come back, " said Tommie Robinson, PhD, of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.
The latest group at risk for hearing loss? Teenagers.
Dr. Josef Shargorodsky of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston led a new study that compared teens in 2005 with teens from the early 90's. He found a significant increase -- about 30 percent -- in the prevalence of hearing loss among teenagers between the two time periods.
According to Dr. Shargorodsky, "about one in five adolescents has evidence of at least some kind of hearing loss."
The study did not explore possible reasons for the increase, but Dr. Robinson has an educated guess.
"We've moved into an era where the culture is such that everybody has some kind of private or independent listening device," he said.
It's true: ear buds abound in today's teen culture -- MP3 players, cell phones, video games -- you name it.
Speech specialists say the best thing you can do to protect your hearing is to turn down the volume.
Dr. Robinson says there's an easy way to monitor your teens.
"If you're standing next to someone, and you can hear the music in their ears, it's too loud."
Most of the hearing loss detected in the new study was slight, amounting to a whisper, but that whisper echoes loud and clear in what could be an alarming trend of today's digital world if ear buds someday lead to hearing aids.
Other studies have found even slight hearing losses in kids and teens can lead to problems in school.