Summer is fast approaching: a time for concerts, yard work, and outdoor activities. Did you know however, that all of these activities can potentially cause permanent damage to your hearing?
Statistics show approximately 48 million people in America have some form of hearing loss. One out of three people develop hearing loss as a result of some past exposure to excessive noise levels. While there's nothing that can be done to stop the natural progression of hearing loss due to aging or genetic factors, you can take steps to prevent further damage to your hearing due to acoustic trauma. That means wearing protective equipment.
Who Is Exposed to Excessive Noise Levels?
While some activities and lines of work can pose a threat to hearing year round, certain common summer pastimes can be particularly damaging. These may include:
- Landscaping (lawn mowers, edger’s, leaf blowers, etc.)
- Attending outdoor concerts
- Using power tools (drills, saws)
- Hunting and shooting
- Recreational range shooting
- Attending fireworks shows
- Going to auto races
- Working as a hairstylist or bartender, due to frequent exposure to hair dryers or blenders
But how do you know when noise is dangerous? In general, you can tell if a noise is likely to cause hearing loss if:
- The noise makes your ear ring (the clinical term is called tinnitus)
- It’s painful to your ears
- Your hearing feels "muffled" several hours after you’ve been exposed
- You have to shout over background noise to make yourself heard
Fortunately, most noise-induced hearing loss is preventable by wearing proper protection.
Choosing the Right Protective Hearing Equipment
There are two basic types of hearing protection: earplugs and earmuffs.
Earplugs fit inside your ear to attenuate sound. They can be custom-made by taking an impression of the ear and sending it to a lab. Or they can be purchased in a local drugstore. Some have specific filters in them that allow the user to filter out certain levels or frequencies of noise. Other types, like custom shooter plugs, automatically attenuate to shut out the noise of a gun blast.
The over-the-counter earplugs are a less expensive option, but must be inserted properly to be effective. If you choose inexpensive home earplugs, read and follow the instructions carefully. Make sure the plug is seated correctly and provides a good tight seal.
Earmuffs fit over the ears and can replace or supplement the protection provided by earplugs, but can also be cumbersome, expensive and hot in the summer months.
Cotton balls are never a good source of hearing protection and should not be used in place of earplugs or earmuffs.
Another component of taking care of your ears during the summer months is protecting them from infection. Summer is a time for swimming, and earplugs can help prevent children or adults from getting water in the ear which can lead to “Swimmer's ear". This type of infection can be more than an inconvenience and can be painful. Children and adults that are prone to these types of infections should be especially vigilant when swimming in rivers, lakes and oceans where bacteria is more prevalent.
Protection for Children
This summer, don't forget to invest in hearing protection equipment for your children as well. If you're wearing hearing protection, your child should be, too. Protecting your child's hearing is an investment in their future, especially if they may be exposed to high levels of noise long-term.