What do you think when you leave a club or a gig and you can feel your ears ringing? It’s an important question because that ringing sensation is not just the sign of a good night out; it is also a warning sign that you have just risked serious damage to your hearing.

A recent survey in the US found that as many as 16% of young adults had suffered some form of permanent hearing loss, and the prime cause of that was over-exposure to loud music. Importantly, whilst those nights out when the music is playing and everyone is having a great time may be the obvious candidates as the cause for that impairment, careless headphone use can be equally damaging.

If you have ever experienced that ringing sensation, and especially if it something that you have experienced more than once you should make a point of going out of your way to book a hearing test. They are often free, but in the same way that people go for an eye test without thinking twice, more and more people are taking the sensible step of getting their hearing checked out.

A professional test will be able to give you a thorough understanding of precisely where your ears are at. All that ringing is a sign of damage to the tiny filaments (cilia) that transform sound energy into a nervous impulse. In other words they are what enable us to hear. Any damage to them is permanent and irreparable. For this reason, it simply makes no sense to take chances with your hearing.

Gwyneth Paltrow attracted a certain amount of criticism when she put ear defenders on her kids at husband Chris Martin’s Coldplay gig a few years ago, but she was only being sensible. Our ears are a lot more delicate than we realise. And that doesn’t just apply to musicians and Hollywood actresses.

Action on Hearing Loss, the public face of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, estimate that there as many as ten million adults in the UK who are affected by some form of hearing loss – that’s one in six of us. What is perhaps even more shocking is that it takes, on average, ten years for someone to address their hearing loss. It goes without saying that the earlier any damage is identified, the better.

Stereotypically hearing problems are something that affects older people, and it is true that people’s hearing does deteriorate as they age. However, the growing exposure of young adults to loud music and to an unthinking use of headphones is in danger of producing a near epidemic of younger adults with diminished hearing. It is something more than merely ironic that listening to your favourite music too loud – whether out and about, or simply in the company of your iPod – can harm your hearing.