For many of us, hearing loss seems inevitable. And in some ways, there is truth to this. The aging process can certainly affect our ears, as can some medications. But in many cases, hearing loss is actually very preventable. These cases of preventable hearing loss are those caused by something simple: loud sounds.
Beware of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is the medical term used to describe a long-lasting process of hearing loss. The condition is caused when noises that are too loud, and/or too long lasting, damage sensitive structures in the inner ear. Specifically, the powerful soundwaves of loud sounds destroy or injure important hair-like cells within the ear. Normally, these structures help us sense sound waves; they also help the ear and brain work together to 'translate' and understand these sound waves. When these cells are damaged, however, we lose this ability - and suffer from hearing loss.
NIHL is believed to affect approximately 26 million Americans, ages 20 to 69. Rather than being an issue of the elderly, this type of hearing loss can happen at any age. Worse, it is potentially permanent.
So what is to be done about this health issue? On the surface, it seems as simple as avoiding loud sounds. Here’s the problem: any loud noises have the ability to impair us in this way. From recreational power tools, to motorcycles, to concerts, to fireworks, and even to the headphones we use to enjoy our favorite tunes - if the volume is too loud, our ears feel the effects.
Address Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Now
NIHL is a major health problem not just because it can affect anyone, but because it can take decades for symptoms to appear. So while it can affect anyone of any age, NIHL commonly becomes most noticeable later in life - long after the damage to our ear (or ears) is done. As a result, patients with this type of hearing loss often begin to struggle to interact with others normally, both in person and over the phone. They also struggle to decipher specific sounds in noisy settings, as their ears can no longer “sort” the various soundwaves around them.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done to minimize your risk of becoming one of these individuals. To try to prevent NIHL:
- Know which noises and length of exposure can cause damage. Specifically, it's important to avoid long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (the unit that sound is measured in). For context: noise from heavy city traffic can reach 85 decibels; motorcycles can reach 95 decibels; the volume of our portable music devices can be 105 decibels or more; sirens can hit 120 decibels; and firecrackers and firearms can hit 150 decibels.
- Control the volume of sounds whenever possible. On personal listening devices, for example, never turn the sound up to the maximum. Instead, aim to keep the volume maxed around the midway point.
- Wear earplugs or other protective devices around loud sounds. Blocking soundwaves is the #1 way to keep them from getting to your inner ear. (However, when using earplugs, be aware that disposable earplugs are for one-time use only.)
- And if you can’t reduce the noise and/or protect yourself, move away from it.
Talk To Your Doctor About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Now
While noise control can go a long way in guarding against NIHL, it’s also important to talk to your care provider about your hearing needs. In addition to offering hearing exams and personalized advice, your doctor can help you evaluate other risk factors for hearing loss (which can include your gender, a history of smoking, your diet, and your medical history). Checking in with your ear doctor will also allow you to review your overall health considerations. This is something we cannot emphasize the importance of enough - especially since hearing loss has been connected to so many other physical health issues.
If you are due for a hearing evaluation, and/or want a consultation about addressing the impact noise levels are having on your hearing and health, we can help. Since 1949, Hearing Unlimited, Inc. has specialized in addressing the numerous underappreciated issues associated with hearing loss. Contact us online or by phone today to schedule an appointment with us, and to begin working towards a louder, better future.