As we age, it’s important to take careful precautions to make sure our body stays in good working order. While the word is out that healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other medical conditions, there are some other avoidable health issues that people don’t talk about as much. Hearing loss is one of these. While some types of hearing loss can’t be prevented, such as from injury or age, you can prevent noise-induced hearing loss provided you start taking precautions as early as possible.
Noises that Can Cause Hearing Loss
Usually, this type of hearing loss happens after being around loud noises for a long period of time. But occasionally, this type of hearing loss can occur from a one-time experience, such as being in the vicinity of an explosion, which is usually unavoidable. But listening to your headphones at a high volume day after day is avoidable. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t want to listen to noises over 85 decibels for a sustained period of time. What’s 85 decibels? Here’s a scale to make things easier:
0 – Typical hearing threshold
10 – The rustle of leaves
30 – A quiet house in the country
45 – The humming of a refrigerator
60 – Normal conversation
85 – City traffic
90 – An orchestral crescendo
100 – Lawnmower
120 – A guitar with an amplifier
Basically, anything over the normal noise of city traffic shouldn’t be listened to for a sustained period of time without ear protection. And speaking of ear protection …
Cover Those Ears
The best way to protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss is to wear noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs if you’re around loud noises for a sustained period of time. This means when you go to a gun range, a concert or a tractor pull, when riding jet skis or a snowmobile, or even when you do something as seemingly harmless as mowing the lawn, it’s a good idea to wear something to protect your hearing. Know what noises can harm your hearing and take the proper precautions.
Another thing to keep in mind is that little ones don’t think about protecting their ears, so if you have children, it’s your job to keep them safe! If you take them to a car show, a concert, an air show, or even if they’re out in your garage with you while you’re working with loud tools, it’s important for you to protect their ears and to lead by example and protect your own.
Know the Signs and Prevent Hearing Loss from Getting Worse
Maybe you made it to your 40s, 50s or 60s without getting the message about noise-induced hearing loss. It’s true that we know more about it now than we did decades ago, and proper safety precautions haven’t always been required – especially in places like manufacturing plants and warehouses with loud equipment – like they are now.
If you’re having trouble hearing – if sounds seem muffled, distorted or if you’re having a tough time hearing people talking – you might be experiencing noise-induced hearing loss.
Another symptom to look for is tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears or head. While tinnitus can subside over time, researchers believe that it is a sign of permanent damage and can come back intermittently. What this means is that it’s time to have your hearing checked, get hearing aids if needed and then keep the hearing loss from progressing by protecting your ears.
Dr. Jennifer Kimberley is an ASHA-certified audiologist whose clinical interests include pediatric and adult hearing aids and auditory brainstem response (ABR). She cares for her patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic.