09
JAN

Posted on Monday, January 09, 2012

How to Protect Your Hearing in a Noisy World

For years I have watched my neighbor drive around on his piercingly loud, somewhat antiquated, lawnmower wearing huge, bright yellow protective headphones. I usually have to shut all my windows and doors while he is doing this to block out the explosively loud clamor. I’ve often wondered how he could stand the noise, even with the protective headphones, and hoped that he hadn’t forgotten that childhood admonition, “Too loud, too long, too close.” This oh-so-catchy adage needs to be repeated to ourselves and others, and not just for fun alliteration, but to help create awareness around the only preventable type of hearing loss-- noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the nation

My neighbor might not know it, but he could have hearing loss. It’s not just him. Everyone is at risk for NIHL. According to an article on KFDM , “Hearing loss has become the 3rd most common health problem in the nation.” This increase in hearing loss comes from, in part, the changes of listening technology and noise in our modern world, so it's not something relegated to older adults. Two out of three people with hearing loss are under retirement age. In fact, NIHL can happen to anyone at any age, and can happen anywhere; home--think hair dryer, antiquated lawnmower and iPod, work--according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 30 million workers face hazardous noise conditions, or out on the town—subways, loud traffic, and sports bars to name a few.

Despite this growing problem, there is little national attention, and many people don’t know how to recognize subtle changes in hearing or understand how to avoid or prevent damage.

Noise pollution is a feature of our increasingly crowded world and many people have already experienced dangerous hearing conditions, so how can you tell if your hearing has been affected? It’s not as easy as you might suspect. Hearing loss cuts us off from the world, and as this hearing survey shows, we can become oblivious to the signs. As a simple test, think about how your ears reacted to loud noise situations. If there was pain, a feeling of having your ears temporarily blocked, the need to shout in order to be heard, or you had a temporary buzzing or ringing in your ears, chances are you have experienced damaged hearing.

How does Noise Induced Hearing Loss happen?

Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that help conduct the noise that constitutes your hearing. Injury to these hair cells comes from exposure, sudden or prolonged, to loud noises. This can result in temporary and permanent hearing loss.

To guard against NIHL, you need to become familiar with and avoid dangerous decibel levels.

There is no monitor on your iPod that says, “dangerous level of decibels”, and none on gym equipment, work tools, or lawnmowers, but there are resources online to help acquaint yourself with hazardous noise levels. For a quick reference, the average conversation between two people tunes in at about 60 dB. A motorcycle ramps the sound up to about 75 dB—this exposure most likely wouldn’t damage hearing unless it is for an extended period of time. The highest setting on your iPod or other personal listening device can hover between 105 to 120 dB. These levels are dangerous and can damage hearing. According to USA Today, “France, the government has set a limit of 100 decibels in MP3 players, and Apple has made adjustments.” In other words, especially if you didn’t get your MP3 in France, never listen to it on its highest level.

What should you do if you think you have experienced NIHL?

If you think you’ve already experienced dangerous sound levels and want to find out if you have damaged hearing, you should visit a hearing specialist, an audiologist or ENT. Hearing loss should be found and dealt with before it spirals into other issues like depression and brain atrophy. Even if your hearing is stable and you believe you have nothing to fear from NIHL, regular visits to an audiologist-- like visits to your eye doctor will help you retain this hearing fitness. Let’s spread the word about this issue. It’s time to make people aware of the third largest health problem in the nation. And if my neighbor happens to be reading this, you might want to consider an upgrade on the lawnmower.

References

Gaston Ashley. Constant loud music via MP3's can Cause hearing loss. October 1, 2011 Taken on October 12, 2011 retrieved from: http://www.kfdm.com/articles/loss-45049-hearing-music.html

Further Reading

http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/sound-ruler.htm

http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/wise/

http://www.aberdeenhearing.com/noise.asp

http://www.oticonusa.com/eprise/main/SiteGen/Uploads/Public/Downloads_Ot...

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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