As summer time kicks into full swing, Elgin Audiology is urging children, teens, and adults of all ages to protect their hearing, reminding them that permanent noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed.
The sounds of summer are among the most cherished and offer wonderful lifetime memories. But summer time also brings loud noises that can permanently harm our hearing. Prolonged exposure to the roar of lawn mowers, power tools, motorized recreational vehicles, target shooting, concerts, loud sporting events, and fireworks all can wreak havoc on our hearing. In fact, the single bang of a firecracker at close range can permanently damage hearing in an instant, making it forever more difficult to hear the subtler sounds of summer.
While many noisy recreational activities are part of summer fun, it is extremely important to take precautions to ensure that these activities do not damage our hearing.
“Hearing is the sense that connects us to each other,” says William Hal Martin, Ph.D., Professor of Otolaryngology, National University of Singapore, Program Director MSc of Audiology, Center for Hearing, Speech & Balance, and Co-Director of Dangerous Decibels. “Exposure to loud sounds cannot only destroy our ability to hear, it can cause tinnitus—ringing in the ears.”
“People of all ages are at risk to hearing loss from loud sounds, but it easily can be prevented by simple steps,” Martin continues. “It is important to recognize when your ears are in danger and to safeguard them so you can enjoy listening to friends, music, and sounds you love for the rest of your life.”
Nearly 40 million people in the United States today have hearing loss. Hearing loss affects Gen Xers, baby boomers, and people of all ages. In fact, results from a 2008 study suggested that the prevalence of hearing loss among younger adults, specifically those in their 20s and 30s, is increasing. Other research indicates that hearing loss from noise affects nearly 17 percent of 12-to-19 year olds, and if they continue to be exposed to hazardous sounds, they will have significant hearing problems much earlier in life than one would normally expect.
Here are some simple tips to follow:
- Walk Away and Plug Your Ears: If a loud noise takes you by surprise, quickly plug your ears with your fingers and walk away. Increasing the distance between you and the source of the sound will help reduce the intensity (or decibels) at which the sound is reaching your ears.
- Use earplugs: When you know you will be exposed to loud sounds, use earplugs. Disposable earplugs, made of foam or silicone, are typically available at local pharmacies. They are practical because you still can hear music and the conversation of those around you when you have them in your ears. But when they fit snuggly, they are effective in adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds. Custom ear protection crafted to fit each unique ear also is available from Elgin Audiology. Custom protection ensures a proper fitting mold each time, further reducing the risk of unwanted noise exposure.
- Leave the fireworks to the professionals: Make sure your family and friends fully enjoy the summer and your Canada festivities by celebrating smart. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. When watching the show, stay a safe distance away—where you can enjoy the colors and lights, but not expose yourself and your family to loud noises. To protect your hearing, make sure you are wearing earplugs and that they are securely in place before the show begins. And be sure to keep them in for the entire show.
- Turn it down: When listening to smartphones and MP3 players, keep them at a low volume. Importantly, limit your use of headphones and ear buds. Remember, it’s not just the volume that matters; it’s also the duration of time spent listening.
- Limit your time in noisy environments: Do all you can to limit the length of time you spend in a noisy environment. And when you do participate in noisy activities, alternate them with periods of quiet. Plus, remember to use ear protection.
- Take measures to protect against swimmer’s ear: Be sure to dry your ears completely after swimming. And do your best to drain any residual water from your ear canal by tilting your head to the side. Also, monitor the bacterial count when swimming at the beach. Many beaches post signs. Stay out of the water on the days that the bacterial counts are high.
- Visit our clinic: An audiologist can provide a hearing test to determine your baseline hearing level and determine if you have any hearing loss that should be addressed. Audiologists also can provide custom-fitted ear protection to help you preserve your hearing.
How Noise Affects Our Hearing
We hear sound when delicate hair cells in our inner ear vibrate, creating nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. But just as we can overload an electrical circuit, we also can overload these vibrating hair cells. Loud noise damages these delicate hair cells, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The cells that are the first to be damaged or die are those that vibrate most quickly—those that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds clearly, like the sounds of birds singing and children speaking.
Sound volume is measured in decibels, with the softest sound a normal hearing human can hear measuring at 0 dBA. Any sounds above 85 dBA for 8 or more hours are considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB peak SPL, presenting the risk of irreversible ear damage. Repeated exposure to loud noise, over an extended period of time, presents serious risks to hearing health as well. If you have to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within arm’s length, the noise is probably in the dangerous range. Here are other warning signs:
• You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.
• You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.
• You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise; you can hear people talking but can’t understand them.