Washington, DC, June 27, 2013—As summer vacation gets into full swing, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is urging children and adults to protect their hearing, reminding them that noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed.
Summer brings a chorus of sweet sounds. But it also brings noise that can be harmful to our ears. 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's delight, it is extremely important to take precautions to ensure that these activities do not damage our hearing.
"Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss," says Sandra Romano, Doctor of Audiology at Sonus® Hearing Care Professionals in Arlington, Virginia. "Both the loudness of the noise and the length of time you're exposed to it matter. But by taking some simple measures, people can protect their hearing while still enjoying their summer activities."
BHI offers some simple tips to follow:
- 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 your local hearing healthcare professional. 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 4th of July 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.
- Keep the volume down: When listening to smartphones and MP3 players, keep them at a low volume. Importantly, limit your use of headphones and earbuds.
- 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.
- 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 your local hearing healthcare professional: A hearing healthcare professional can provide a hearing test to determine your baseline hearing level and determine if you have any hearing loss that should be addressed. Hearing healthcare professionals also can provide custom-fitted ear protection to help you preserve your hearing.
"We often take our hearing for granted," says Romano. "But the truth is that hearing loss, especially when left unaddressed, affects our quality of life. Hearing is a significant connection to the world, and we should do all we can to protect it."
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.
Loudness is measured in decibels, with silence measuring at 0 dB. Any noise above 85 dB is considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB, 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.