When we are assaulted by loud sounds, tiny hair cells deep inside our ears can be harmed. These cells cannot be repaired or replaced, so once they've been damaged, our ability to hear is forever diminished.
While there are other causes for hearing loss, noise is the most common cause for hearing loss in the United States. It is estimated that roughly 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss from exposure to noise while at work or during leisure activities.
Because hearing loss usually develops slowly, with every high-decibel assault causing a tiny bit more damage over the course of years, most people don’t realize it’s happening. Repeated and prolonged exposure to loud sound—whether it’s a siren or a symphony— will eventually result in hearing loss.
Who is at risk?
Everyone! While people in certain professions, such as firefighters, musicians, factory workers and military personnel have higher on the job risk of hearing loss, we all encounter sounds that are in the decibel range to damage our hearing.
How can I tell if a sound is too loud?
If you’re in a situation where you have to shout to be heard by someone standing within an arm’s length, the sound has the potential to damage your hearing.
How do I know if I’ve already damaged my hearing?
If, just after being exposed to loud noise:
· You experience ringing or buzzing in your ears.
· You can hear people talking but you have trouble understanding them.
· Your ears feel full.
Visit a hearing care specialist for a base-line hearing exam. Then follow up periodically to track the health of your ears.
What can I do to protect my hearing?
Good question! Approximately one third of permanent hearing loss may be prevented by using appropriate hearing protection strategies, including the following:
- Wear hearing protection (earplugs, earmuffs or both at once) consistently when using loud equipment at work or at home. Get in the habit of wearing earplugs when using a blow dryer, lawnmower or power tools. When using kitchen appliances like blenders and coffee grinders, wrap a heavy towel around the base to muffle the sound of the motor.
- When using personal listening devices such as MP3 players, smart phones and gaming devices, employ the 60/60 rule: keep volume at no higher than 60% of maximum; listen at this volume for no more than 60 minutes per day. Avoid using ear buds in loud environments; you may turn the volume up to a hazardous level without realizing how loud it really is.
- Buy quieter products. Check noise ratings when choosing appliances, power tools, vehicles, and small appliances.
- Use your fingers to quickly plug your ears when you’re suddenly exposed to a loud noise like a siren or jackhammer.
- Always use hearing protection when enjoying noisy recreational activities like concerts, auto races, fireworks or shooting, and when operating loud vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles or motorboats.
- Keep a pair of earplugs in your pocket or handbag so you’ll always be ready when your environment gets loud.