The world around us continues to grow louder as industry continues to expand and the amount of media available to us becomes increasingly more infinite. We are increasingly becoming surrounded by noise, even as we venture into nature, where the sounds of aircrafts above follow us everywhere we go. Along with this noise comes a greater risk to our hearing. Exposure to loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.” It’s important to understand the dangers extreme noise, when you may be experiencing an exposure, and the importance of treatment.
The rise of noise induced hearing loss
NIHL is a kind of sensorineural hearing loss and occurs in 23 percent of people over the age of 65. It’s important to understand that there are many causes of heairng loss besides exposure to noise. These include the often-unavoidable age related hearing loss, which occurs due to changes in the inner ear. Depending on your lifestyle changes it’s possible to put off age related hearing loss, but for those of us rare enough to make to be centenarians, there is a 100 percent chance of hearing loss. Other causes include exposure to certain chemicals often in the workplace, environmental toxins, certain medications, impact to the head, chronic infection, and unregulated health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. However, unlike many of these causes, hearing loss can be avoided when you take proper precautions.
How our hearing works
It’s interesting that a mechanism designed to pick up sounds and send them to our brain can be so sensitive to sound. However, when sound reaches a volume or decibel level which is too extreme for our ears to process it can cause damage, which is often irreversible. Our ears pick up sound but to reach our brain, sound waves must be converted into electrical signals via tiny hair like cells called stereocilia. When sounds reach a certain threshold for too long, it can cause violent vibrations. These can cause the stereocilia to vibrate too robust against the membrane walls which house them, causing them to become fractured, damaged, or destroyed.
How Loud is Too Loud?
The volume or the loudness of sound is measured in decibels. The threshold for safe listening is 85dBA for eight constant hours or more. As the decibel level increases, the time it takes for damage to occurs quickly decreases. For instance, at 95dBA, it only takes an hour of constant exposure for damage to occur. To put it in perspective, 95dBA could be a lawnmower, or a motorcycle engine. Without the proper precautions, you could be putting yourself at risk every time you use this type of machinery. It’s surprising how many sounds around us which we use every day pose a risk to our ears. The most obvious example of this are headphones connected to personal listening devices such as smartphones and other mp3 players. They have the potential to deliver decibel levels as high as 105dBA – loud enough to damage ears in under 15 minuets. However, due to the inexhaustible amount of music and podcasts, people often listen for hours on end. Headphones may be one of the single most common factors for noise induced hearing loss across generations.
How to protect your hearing from loud noises
The important thing to understand is that NIHL is not inevitable. There are many things you can do starting today to curb the effect of this pervasive condition. Even if you already have hearing loss, it’s still important to be aware of these preventative measures as it is a progressive condition which can always become worse.
Increase your distance from the noise: The further you get away from a noise, the quieter it becomes. Your noise exposure falls by six dBA for every doubling of the distance between you and the source of sound.
Reduce the length of exposure to noise: Even if you meet an exposure o 85 dBA, it’s not going to damage your hearing immediately. However, as sounds rise, that can change. A gunshot or exposure at close range can cause significant hearing loss instantaneously. Moderate levels of noise exposure can be minimized by taking listening breaks. Step away from the source. If using headphones, make sure to take listening breaks.
Use hearing protection: Earplugs and protective earplugs can reduce exposure by 15-33 dBA, depending on the model. Other types electronically detect quieter sounds and send them back to you while canceling out very loud sounds, commonly experience in combat or while hunting. To find out more about how to protect your hearing and what to do about a hearing loss, contact us today to find out more!