Hearing loss is painless, progressive, permanent, and most importantly, preventable.
If you break your arm, your friends and family are unlikely to ask you to carry groceries in from the car. The cast is a visible alert to others that you are unable to use your arm for some simple tasks of everyday life.
This is not the case when you suffer a hearing loss after using firearms, operating a chain saw, attending a rock concert or sporting event without hearing protection.
There are an estimated 36 million Americans with hearing loss, and one in three developed their hearing loss from exposure to noise. Continuous exposure to excessive noise will make hearing loss progressive. Damage to your hearing from noise exposure is permanent, and because noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is painless, you may not notice the loss until the damage has been done. The good news is NIHL is preventable.
Noise is hazardous when it becomes too loud and you are exposed to it too long. You should also take into account how close you are to the noise. Noise level is measured in units called decibels (dB), and sound is usually measured on two scales A and C. The human ear is most sensitive to the A scale. Leaves rustle at 20dB, whereas normal conversation is about 60dB. Hazardous noise from an explosion (impulse noise) is dangerous at 140dBA, and continuous noise over a period of time, such as a work day in a factory, is hazardous at 85dBA. Noise levels in 2010 at the Super Bowl were reported at 102dB, and the noise measured at the Stanley Cup Finals was 122 decibels, and that was during the National Anthem! Vuvuzela horns at the World Cup were measured at 131dB, and a New York City bus at 42nd St. and Fifth Ave. was measured at 87dB.
Hair cells in the inner ear deliver signals to the brain about what we hear. Hearing damage occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are impaired. When hair cells are damaged, the brain gets a distorted message instead of a clear one, like listening through a defective speaker.
If you have noise-induced hearing loss, you do not hear clearly, especially with background noise. This inability to hear clearly can pose safety issues. For example, the individual with hearing loss may think they heard “Attack!” when the command actually was “Get back!” Those with hearing loss may also ask others to repeat what they say, and others may think they are not paying attention or ignoring them, when in fact, the person with the hearing loss did not hear them at all. Individuals with hearing loss may also develop tinnitus, or sound in their ears when there is actually none externally.
Good hearing is a requirement for many jobs, including those in the military, or with the police or fire department. A hearing loss may short-stop your career plans. Hearing aids may help to manage hearing loss, but they do not fix it.
Protective devices such as earplugs and earmuffs can help safeguard your hearing and prevent noise-induced hearing loss, and there are special devices available for recreational hunters, musicians and occupations requiring radio communication.
Protect your hearing by also taking charge of your personal listening devices. Listen to your iPod for 1 ½ hours at 80 percent (or a volume of level eight) to reduce your risk for hearing loss. Move away from loud noises. When you double your distance from a noise, you reduce the sound by six decibels. Choose tools with low noise levels, such as a rake rather than a leaf blower. You can even choose a quieter place to eat. The restaurant reviews include a “Sound Check,” a rating of the decibel level in restaurants. One recent review measured the decibel level of an eatery at 104dB, a hazardous level.
Be proactive and preserve your hearing.
For more information, call Occupational Audiology Hearing Conservation and speak with Marge Jylkka or Shoshanna Kantor at (301) 295-4665 or (301) 400-0882.