Preventing hearing loss
Hearing loss prevention, custom protection, and musicians’ products
Though some individuals are born with hearing loss, exposure to loud noises is the cause of most hearing loss. Both the level of noise and the length of time you listen to the noise can put you at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. Sounds that are louder than 85 dB, such as a lawn mower, a gunshot blast, or fireworks, can cause permanent hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels also can damage the hearing system.
In either case, the damage occurs when loud sounds reach the inner ear and destroy the tiny hair cells lining this fluid-filled chamber. Once these hair cells are damaged, there is no treatment to repair them. This process can occur from exposure to a single loud noise, or after years of overexposure to loud noises.
Because hearing loss is permanent, the best treatment is prevention. In many cases, simple over-the-counter earplugs or earmuffs that can be purchased at drugstores, hardware stores, or sports stores may prevent damage to your hearing. Associated Audiologists specializes in preventing hearing loss. Be sure to discuss hearing loss prevention with your audiologist and ask if custom earplugs may be right for you.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends the following to prevent hearing loss:
- Place earplugs into the ear canal so that they totally block the canal. Earplugs come in different shapes and sizes, and can also be custom made by taking an impression of the ear. Earplugs can reduce noise by 15 to 30 decibels (dB) depending on how they are made and fit.
- Use earmuffs that fit completely over both ears. They must fit tightly so that sound is blocked from entering the ears. Like earplugs, earmuffs can reduce noise 15 to 30 dB depending on how they are made and fit.
- Use earplugs and earmuffs together to achieve even greater sound reduction. Use of earplugs and earmuffs is recommended when noise exposure is particularly high.
- Consider custom earplugs and musicians’ plugs if you are frequently exposed to loud noises. If you are an avid hunter or a musician, be sure to talk with your audiologist about these hearing protection devices.
- Do not listen to loud sounds for too long. If you don’t have hearing protection, move away from the loud sound and give your ears a break.
- Lower the loudness of the sound if possible. Keep personal listening devices, such as MP3 players or iPods, set to no more than half volume. Don’t be afraid to ask others to turn down the sounds from speakers. Speak to the movie theater projectionist if the movie soundtrack is too loud at your local theatre.
- Be a good consumer. Look for noise ratings on appliances, sporting equipment, power tools, and hair dryers. Purchase quieter products. This is especially important when purchasing toys for children.
- Be a local advocate. Some movie theaters, health clubs, dance clubs, bars, and amusement centers are very noisy. Talk with managers and those in charge about the loud noise and the potential damage to hearing. Ask to have the noise source lowered.
Can my ears get used to noise?
Don't be fooled by thinking your ears are “tough” or that you have the ability to “tune it out”! Noise-induced hearing loss is usually gradual and painless but, unfortunately, permanent. Once destroyed, the hearing nerve and its sensory nerve cells cannot be repaired.
If you think you have “gotten used to” the noise you routinely encounter, you may already have some hearing damage. Talk with your audiologist.