When you hear the term “hard of hearing”, what do you picture? Many people probably imagine an elderly relative, leaning towards them during a conversation. Experiences like this make it easy to associate hearing loss with aging.
The truth, however, is that in many cases, hearing loss is not caused by aging alone. Instead, it’s a preventable, prevalent health issue that severely hinders a sufferer’s quality of life. And while hearing loss can be caused by illness or even by certain medications, in a majority of cases, it’s caused by something much simpler: noise.
Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-based hearing loss is so common that it has its own diagnostic name. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is used to describe a condition where the sensitive structures of the inner hear are damaged.
The damage occurs when powerful soundwaves 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.
And any loud noises have the ability to impair us in this way.
From a loud television set, to a jackhammer being used near our place of work, to exposure to high levels of traffic, any sound can become harmful when it's very loud. Worse, both short- and long-term exposure to loud noises can result in cumulative damage to the ear over time, slowly stealing our hearing away.
Because it's often the result of cumulative noise exposure, NIHL may become 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 soundwaves bombarding them.
However, this isn’t just a problem for the elderly. In 2017, a nationally representative health interview and examination survey found that nearly one in four (24 percent) of U.S. adults aged 20 to 69 years has features and testing results in one or both ears that suggest noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
That number is too high - and we want to help you learn how to avoid becoming a part of this statistic.
Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Because exposure to harmful noise can happen at any age, prevention and noise protection at every stage of life is key. Specifically, it's important to avoid long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (the unit that sound is measured in).
- 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
- firecrackers and firearms can hit 150 decibels
If any of these numbers surprised you, it will be important for you to further research the decibel levels that the noises in your daily life reach. By knowing just how loud the sounds around you truly are, you will know when to take preventative action. Specifically:
- You will be able to recognize when to wear earplugs or other protective devices (which should be done any time you are exposed to sounds above 85 decibels)
- You will know when to move away from a sound source to lessen your exposure to it
- You will know when you need to protect the ears of children who are too young to protect their own
Prevention Takes Work - But It Is Important
While guarding your ears against loud noises can feel like work, it’s well worth the effort. That’s because NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is preventable. By knowing how loud your daily environments are, and by making sure to wear proper ear protection any time you anticipate being exposed to loud sounds, you can avoid the cumulative damage that steals your hearing over time - and you will be able to experience the world more fully for years and years to come.
Do you have questions about how to best protect your hearing on a daily basis? We can help you come up with a plan to care for your ears, as well as provide cleaning services and hearing tests if needed to better evaluate your health overall. To schedule a visit, contact us via phone or request an appointment online. We’re here, and we’re ready to ensure you can hear your best for years to come.