BY: John W. Hawks, Ph.D., CCC-A
I had thought to wait until the 4th of July to write something seasonal about the dangers of loud noise to our hearing. But then it occurred to me that fireworks are only one of many decibel-defying culprits in our summer seduction with sound. Indeed, with the onset of warm weather, we in northeast Ohio, along with nearly everyone else in America, tend to welcome the noises we have come to associate with spring and summer. Unfortunately, many of those noises should be avoided more than welcomed, and, if not avoided, at least protected against.
While aging still stands as the most common cause of hearing loss in the United States, noise exposure runs a close second, and non-occupational, or recreational, noise exposure has now become a bigger problem than noise related to the workplace. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, of the roughly 40 million U.S. adults with hearing damage most likely related to noise exposure, over half (53%) report that they do not work in a noisy environment. For this population, the noise source was most likely loud sounds associated with everyday activities.
We have federal laws to regulate workplace noise exposure, but very few laws that address exposure to loud sounds away from work. This means that we must be responsible for taking care of our own hearing. To do this, we should keep a few things in mind:
Get out of there!
With warm weather come holidays, and with holidays come parades. We all love a parade. But be aware that, although the horns and drums of a marching band and the sirens of emergency vehicles may be exhilarating, you may be standing dangerously close to those sound sources as the parade passes by. While these exposures may be short, they can be quite potent.
Summertime yard care also can be a major source of very loud sounds. Chain saws, lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and leaf blowers all emit extremely high levels of noise, typically for extended periods of time. Hearing protection is highly recommended (more on that later). Oh, and listening to music through your headphones to cover up the sound doesn’t count as hearing protection because you are likely boosting the music levels to hear over the noise.
Outdoor activities such as car and motorcycle racing, concerts, major league baseball games, fairs, and tractor pulls pose a substantial risk of exposure to loud sounds for extended periods of time. Think ahead and bring your hearing protection with you.
Last, but not least, are fireworks. Large fireworks displays are certainly noisy, but are not likely damaging if viewed from far away. However, every year, mishandled fireworks at home cause immediate and permanent hearing damage when set off near the ear.
For the most part, hearing loss from noise exposure is preventable, and protection is relatively simple and inexpensive. Once you are aware of the potential sources of damaging noise, prepare yourself. Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself from dangerous sound levels.:
1) If you must be in a noisy environment, stay as far away from the sound source as possible, and spend as little time as possible in the noise. The closer you are to the source of the sound, the more at-risk you are for hearing damage.
2) Use hearing protection—foam earplugs are readily available and inexpensive. For repeated regular exposures (like lawn mowing), ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones can be handier and more comfortable.
3) Listening to music with earbuds or headphones is not damaging when done at reasonable volume levels. Be aware of how loud the volume is and take breaks from listening to give your ears a rest. Monitor young children’s use of these devices and serve as a good example.
4) And if all else fails….
Get out of there! Hearing loss from noise exposure is permanent. You will live with that loss (and the consequences that come with it) for the rest of your life. If you find yourself in a noisier-than-expected situation, try to remove yourself and go someplace quieter. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are standing next to your friend and must raise your voice to be understood, you are exposing yourself to dangerous levels of noise.
If you are concerned about your exposure to loud noise or feel that your hearing may have worsened, consider contacting an audiologist or physician for a hearing evaluation.
Enjoy your summer!
For more information on noise and hearing loss, visit:
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