What sounds of summer can be damaging to your hearing?
Lawnmowers buzzing, speakers at sporting events, outdoor concerts, and fireworks crackling. All the wonderful sounds that tell us summer is HERE! However, did you know that certain sounds can be damaging to your hearing?
NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when we are exposed to sounds that are at dangerous listening levels. The hearing loss results from damage to structures in the ear, most often the nerve fibers in the inner ear (cochlea) that respond to sound. NIHL may be temporary or permanent in nature. Sometimes my patients don’t even realize it’s happened, but cumulative exposure over the lifetime can lead to changes in your hearing acuity!
I have seen noise-induced hearing loss happen at any age. Children, young adults, and older individuals can develop NIHL. A study performed in 2011 by the CDC discovered that at least 10 million adults in the U.S. under the age of 70 had hearing tests that suggested hearing loss in one or both ears from loud noise exposure. The CDC estimates that 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.
There are two variables to be cautious of when thinking of a noise exposure: the intensity (loudness) and duration (time). Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a one-time exposure to a very loud sound, blast, or impulse (e.g. fireworks or gunshot), or from listening to loud sounds over an extended period (e.g. lawnmower or power tools).
Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Sounds at or below 70 dB are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long or continuous exposure to sounds at or above 80 dB can result in hearing loss! The louder the sound exposure, the shorter the amount of time it takes for noise-induced hearing loss to happen.
WHAT ARE SIGNS OF NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS
Patients are often unaware they have noise-induced hearing loss, as it can happen slowly over time. The brain becomes acquainted with the new “normal” that is actually hearing loss. Frequently in our clinic, we see this reported in individuals who have (or had) noisy occupations (e.g. military, construction, landscaping, or factory settings). Even if hearing is screened routinely in environments with high risk of noise exposure, the impact of noise-induced hearing loss does not always show up immediately.
Clinically I see patients with NIHL will routinely report ringing or noises in the ears (tinnitus). Additionally, they notice that speech is muffled or unclear. This inhibits their ability to follow the conversation and hear in challenging listening environments. Sometimes exposure to impulse or continuous loud noise can result in a temporary hearing loss that disappears after a few days. Recent studies suggest, however, that although the loss of hearing seems to disappear, there may be residual long-term damage to your hearing (NICDC).
COMMON SOUNDS IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT
So what are sounds in your environment that can be potentially hazardous? Take a look at a few of the examples below:
**Motorcycles & dirt bikes
**Music through headphones at maximum volume, sporting events, and concerts
**Dangerous decibel levels
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS?
The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented! There are several tips to help reduce and minimize your exposure to loud sounds. The following sound safety tips will equip you in protecting your hearing!
LOWER THE VOLUME: If possible, decrease the volume on your personal listening devices, phone, car stereo, etc. One of the simplest ways to take matters into your own hands is to decrease the decibel level yourself!
MOVE AWAY FROM THE NOISE: Maybe bypass the front row of the firework show/concert and settle for a seat in the back. You’ll likely still want to wear hearing protection too!
WEAR HEARING PROTECTION: There are many different types of hearing protection. Foam, muffs, and custom-fit hearing devices. Hearing protection can be found in most grocery stores or pharmacies. The disposable type is inexpensive and worth having on hand! However, if you’re around noise frequently, consider investing in custom hearing protection--made for comfort and convenience. The cost is worth it!
At Inman Audiology, we are equipped to answer your questions and concerns regarding sound safety. In addition, we can provide custom hearing protection! Please feel free to reach out to us! We are here to help your hearing in any way we can.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Quick Statistics external icon. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; August 2008.
Niskar AS, Kieszak SM, Holmes AE, Esteban E, Rubin C, Brody DJ. Estimated prevalence of noise induced hearing threshold shifts among children 6 to 19 years of age: The third national health and nutritional examination survey. 1988-1994, United States. Pediatrics 2001;108:40–43.