The American Medical Association reported in August of this year that hearing loss in teens is on the rise. One in five teens is showing some degree of hearing loss according to a new study. This is about 30% from previous reports. With all the education and all the resources available, this is disheartening news.
Most people associate hearing loss as part of the aging process and it’s often true that with age and exposure to noise over a long period of time; often noise induced hearing loss is an affect. It doesn’t have to be this way. Sometimes a single exposure to loud noise is all that is needed, a single hunting trip without ear plugs. Loud noise damages the hair cells in the inner ear and can cause hearing loss, ear ringing and distortion of sounds.
Did you know?
- Nothing can restore lost hearing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone!
- Hearing loss caused by noise is preventable and you can choose to prevent it.
What Noises are Dangerous?
Physical measurements of the sound can be made to determine whether it exceeds dangerous levels. Sound is measured in decibels or often referred to as “dB”. Levels over 80 dB over a period of time can cause damage to hearing. Both the amount of noise and the length of time of exposure determine the amount of damage. There is even an application for your iPhone to measure sound levels. It’s an “SPL” meter; Sound Pressure Level and I’ve found them to be quite accurate.
So what sound is 80 dB or greater?
150 dB = rock music peak
140 dB = firearms, air raid siren, jet engine
130 dB = jackhammer
120 dB = jet plane take-off, amplified rock music at 4-6 ft., car stereo, band practice
110 dB = rock music, model airplane
106 dB = timpani and bass drum rolls
100 dB = snowmobile, chain saw, pneumatic drill
90 dB = lawnmower, shop tools, truck traffic, subway
80 dB = busy street, hair dryer
60 dB = conversation, dishwasher
Warning Signs of Hazardous Noise
- You must raise your voice to be heard
- You can’t hear someone two feet away from you
- Speech around you sounds muffled or dull after leaving a noise area
- You have pain or ringing on your ears (tinnitus) after exposure to noise.
Examples of noise levels considered dangerous by experts are a lawnmower, a rock concert, firearms, firecrackers, headset music listening systems, motorcycles, tractors, household appliances (garbage disposals, blenders, food processors/choppers, etc.) and noisy toys. All can deliver sound over 90 decibels and some up to 140 decibels.
Can’t my ears “adjust” and “get used” to regular noise?
If you think you have “gotten used to” the noise you are routinely exposed to, then most likely you have already suffered damage and have acquired a permanent hearing loss. 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 do not regenerate!
Noise not only affects hearing. It affects other parts of the body and body systems. It is now known that noise:
- Increases blood pressure
- Has negative cardiovascular effects such as changing the way the heart beats
- Increases breathing rate
- Disturbs digestion
- Can cause an upset stomach or ulcer
- Can negatively impact a developing fetus, perhaps contributing to premature birth
- Makes it difficult to sleep, even after the noise stops
- Intensifies the effects of factors like drugs, alcohol, aging and carbon monoxide
Noise can also hamper performance of daily tasks, increase fatigue, and cause irritability.
Noise can reduce efficiency in performing daily tasks by reducing attention to tasks . This is a concern of employers when it comes to assuring workers’ safety. It is also a concern to a growing number of educators interested in human learning.
Because of noise, we often find ourselves fatigued and irritable. We don’t even realize the effect until the noisy hubbub stops and we feel relief.
From another perspective, your own inability to hear and understand others clearly can cause you to feel angry and frustrated. Instead of accepting the problem is yours, you misdirect your feelings to others and blow up at them.
Noise also makes speech communication harder. More concentration and energy is needed not only to listen and hear over the noise but also to speak louder above the noise. As a result, voices can be strained and vocal cord abuses, such as laryngitis, develop. It is a physical strain to carry on even an enjoyable conversation in the presence of noise.
Protect Yourself from Noise
The key word in dealing with noise is prevention! We want to eliminate unwanted noise when we can. When noise cannot be eliminated, we want to keep it as low as possible. Here are some things to do:
Wear hearing protectors when exposed to any loud or potentially damaging noise at work, in the community (heavy traffic, rock concerts, hunting, etc.) or at home (mowing the lawn, snow blowing the driveway, etc.). Have hearing protection in many locations and places that will make it easy and convenient for you to use. Your car, your purse, your desk, your briefcase – make sure you have it accessible and in multiple locations. This protection can be purchased at drug stores, sporting goods stores or can be custom-made.
Limit periods of exposure to noise. Don’t sit next to the speakers at concerts, discos, or auditoriums. If you are at a rock concert, walk out for awhile give your ears a break ! If you are a musician, wear ear protection–it is a necessity! Take personal responsibility for your hearing.
Pump down the volume! When using stereo headsets or listening to amplified music in a confined place like a car, turn down the volume. Remember: if a friend can hear the music from your headset when standing three feet away, the volume is definitely too high. Don’t be afraid to ask others to turn down the volume.
Educate yourself about the damaging effects of noise and what you can do to prevent your exposure to noise.
Educate others and take action! Educate your children through discussion and by example. Wear your ear protection and encourage your children to follow your example. Provide them with ear protection. Remind them to turn down stereo headsets. A rule of thumb is that, if sound from a head set can be heard by others 3 feet away, it is too loud.
Be a responsible consumer. Look for a noise rating when buying recreational equipment, children’s toys, household appliances, and power tools. Choose quieter models, especially for equipment that you use often or close to your ears like a hair dryer. If there is no noise rating, contact the manufacturer and ask for one!
Inspect your child’s toys for noise danger just as you do for small parts that can cause choking. Remember, too, that children tend to hold toys close to their ear which can pose additional threat for hearing damage.
Have your hearing tested by an audiologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), especially if you are concerned about possible hearing loss. Remember the warning signs of over exposure to noise.
Be aware of the noise in your environment and take control of it when you can. Be an advocate for reducing noise pollution. Your county may have a local noise ordinance. Find out what you can do in your community to advocate for quiet. For example, some schools have set a decibel limit for the music played at school dances in order to protect the students’ hearing.
Be an advocate! Remember there are no regulations governing how loud sound can be in public places such as discos, movie theaters, dance clubs, exercise centers. Work with owners, managers, and community leaders to create a healthier less noxious listening environment.