Have you ever used a leaf blower or lawn mower for several hours at a time without wearing hearing protection? Have you attended a concert and left with your ears ringing? Have you used a firearm without protecting your hearing? If you have engaged in any of these activities, you may have caused yourself noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Approximately 36 million Americans have hearing loss. One in three of these individuals developed his or her hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise. NIHL can be caused by a sudden or "impact" sound and/or long-term exposure to noise, which damages the hair cells that are found in our inner ear. Hair cells are small sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear (sound energy) into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once hair cells are damaged, they cannot grow back, so permanent hearing loss results.
You are never too young or too old to begin to protect your hearing. You can start by following these tips:
- Parents should monitor their children's toys. Turn the volume control to the lowest setting, or place tape over the speaker to help protect children's hearing.
- Teenagers using headphones for music or other media should set the volume at less than 60 percent, and they should not listen to such devices for more than 60 minutes per day.
- Adults should be aware of noise in their environment as well. For some, hearing protection should be used during their work day if job related noises are too loud, or if their employer requires all employees to wear hearing protection. Such precautions should be taken while engaging in activities associated with loud noise, such as using lawn equipment or woodworking tools, target shooting or attending a rock concert.
How do you know if you need to protect your hearing? Noise is dangerous if:
- You have to shout over background noise to be heard
- The noise is painful to your ears
- The noise makes your ears ring
- You have decreased or muffled hearing for several hours after exposure
You should plan ahead for these noisy situations; there are several types of hearing protection available. Earplugs fit inside your ear canal to block the sound and are good to use if you are wearing other head protection such as a hard hat or helmet. Earmuffs are also an effective form of hearing protection that can be used by most people during the majority of noisy situations. Both earplugs and earmuffs are available at most large retailers, pharmacies and sporting goods stores. Custom hearing protection is also an option if you will be around high noise levels for long periods of time. Contact an audiologist to have an impression made of your ear for custom devices. When using hearing protection, it is important to ensure that it fits properly in order to gain the maximum benefits.
To learn more about how you can protect yourself from hearing loss, or to receive a hearing test, contact Mount Nittany's audiology services by calling 814.466.6396.