Have you noticed your kids wearing their headphones with music on full blast and worried about their hearing? And what about you, turning up the tunes or a podcast while listening in the car or on your phone? Noise-induced hearing loss has always been a problem, but technology means we need to worry about it even more. After all, hearing loss affects 48 million Americans.
Noise-induced hearing loss isn’t just a temporary effect like some believe. In many cases, the damage can be permanent.
Why Should You Worry About Hearing Loss?
Maybe you associate hearing loss with aging. The hearing loss that happens with age is called presbycusis, but there are other types of hearing loss. Another term for hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss or deficit. Noise-induced hearing loss is the second-most prevalent kind of sensorineural hearing deficit.
This is especially true today, as kids and young people heavily use personal listening devices. No matter what your age, hearing loss will cause serious issues in your life. It can be especially perilous for kids. After all, hearing is pivotal to learning, language development, communication and speech. Hearing damage is often misdiagnosed as a communication disorder.
Exposure to noise is a major cause of hearing loss in individuals in every age group. Noise exposure can cause permanent hearing damage. The CDC reports that approximately 12.5% of kids and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 19 have permanent middle ear damage caused by noise exposure. The number is 17% among adults from 20 to 69 years of age.
How Can Noise Exposure Cause Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss happens when noise exposure damages inner ear nerves or structures. When this happens, it’s called noise-induced hearing loss. This damage can happen as the result of one extreme noise exposure (this could be a blast, impulse or sound). Alternatively, it can happen from accumulated exposure to loud sounds over a long period.
The duration and intensity of the sound exposure impact whether or not you will have hearing damage. Decibels are the measurement used to describe sound’s loudness. If you are exposed to 70-decibel level noise for a prolonged period of time, you may end up with hearing damage. If you are exposed to a higher decibel level, the damage could occur more quickly.
Noise that May Cause Hearing Damage
As mentioned, the decibel level of a sound and how long you’re exposed to it will determine whether you may end up with hearing damage. The louder a sound, the more quickly you may end up with this damage.
Some examples of noise sources that may cause hearing damage include firearms (140 to 170 decibels), rock concerts (105 to 110 decibels), lawnmowers (80 to 85 decibels) and motorcycles (95 decibels), and personal music sources at high volume settings (may be up to 105 to 110 decibels).
To get a sense of what decibels mean, consider this. An average conversation is usually approximately 60 dB. Ever heard a motorcycle running? If so, you know how loud that is. That sound is somewhere around 95 dB. You need to start worrying when things get above 70 dB, and you’re exposed to it over an extended period of time. And there’s a danger of immediate hearing damage if you are exposed to noise louder than 120 dB, even just once.
Potential Signs of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss usually start showing up early on. Some of those may include difficulty making out what people say to you or hearing the TV. Another sign is having trouble hearing high-pitched or high-frequency sounds (such as a phone ringing). Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) may also occur.
Let’s take a look at some other potential symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss below:
- Hypersensitivity to specific kinds of sounds. You might find some kinds of sounds may even cause pain in your ears.
- Constantly asking people to repeat themselves or speak more loudly.
- Problems hearing people speak on the phone.
- High-pitched sounds (such as the telephone or doorbell) are difficult to hear.
Stay aware of these potentially long-term effects of noise exposure.
Loudness is Hard to Judge
One reason why noise can be so hazardous is that it’s difficult for us to judge decibel or sound levels just by listening. By the time you realize that a sound was too sound, it may be too late. Just because two sounds seem to have the same intensity doesn’t mean they have the same levels of noise.
For example, if you hear something in a quiet space, it may seem louder than it really is. On the other hand, loud sounds in a loud space, such as a street with dense traffic, may not be perceived as loud but could cause hearing damage.
Remember that it’s the sound intensity you need to worry about, not the perceived loudness. Sound intensity is measured in decibels. One way to judge if you’re in an excessively loud environment is if you need to shout to get someone to hear you, even if you are within arm’s length. If this happens, there is probably an 85-dB sound intensity in the environment. In these circumstances, you may be at risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
How to Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
There are several things you can do to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Let’s take a look at how you can begin to create your own hearing conservation program.
Take steps to avoid exposure to loud sounds.
Keep yourself and your family away from potentially hearing damaging sounds. If you ever go into situations where there will be high decibel sounds, such as at a concert, be aware of the danger and stay away from the sound sources as much as you can.
Limit how high you turn up the volume when listening to music
Listening to loud music is so much fun that it’s easy to forget the hearing damage it could cause. Set healthy habits now. Make a rule for the maximum volume for setting your stereo system. If you ever put it louder, sit further away from the music source (speakers).
If you find yourself near loud sound sources, move away from them as soon as you can.
An example of this would be if you are at a music concert. Don’t stand or sit near the speakers. If you get to choose your seats when purchasing your tickets, keep this concern in mind.
If you need to be exposed to loud sounds, wear hearing protection devices
You can buy hearing protection devices (such as canal caps, earmuffs and earplugs) at most drugstores and hardware stores. Ideally, ask a doctor for advice on what kind of protective devices you should use when you are exposed to noise.
Ensure your hearing protection equipment is nearby and that you use it whenever you need to.
Having hearing protection is great, but it won’t help if you don’t have it when you need it. Have the right kinds of hearing protection and keep them close at hand.
Don’t buy toys for your kids that produce excessively loud sounds.
When you buy toys that make sounds, make sure they have an on-off switch or volume control for that feature. Children often keep toys quite close to their ears, so keep that in mind.
Be kind to your ears.
If you ever notice any tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or temporary hearing loss after you’ve been exposed to noise, spend some time in a quiet setting. The human ear needs time to recover.
Get medical advice if you notice any early signs of hearing loss.
Examples include it seeming like people mumble when they talk, problems following conversations when there is any background noise, and tinnitus.
Educate Your Family on Hearing Safety and Hearing Loss Prevention
Knowledge is power, and that is definitely the case with hearing safety. Kids and many adults are unaware of just how much excessive noise exposure can permanently damage their hearing.
Start at a young age with your kids. Teach by example. If your kids see you be reckless with your hearing, they probably will too.
Get Your Family’s Hearing Tested
Regular hearing tests are essential to your family’s health and well-being. Find an ear, nose and throat practice near you for professional testing. If you live nearby, Virginia Ear, Nose & Throat is the ideal hearing hub for your family.
The practice’s audiologists and physicians provide comprehensive hearing plans to ensure a lifetime of healthy hearing. Virginia Ear, Nose & Throat’s diagnostics are top-notch, and booking a hearing evaluation is simple and easy. Ear, nose, and throat doctors near you can prescribe whatever help is necessary, such as hearing aids.