You probably think nothing about slapping on some sunscreen before you walk out the door, knowing that it helps to protect your long-term health. So does monitoring your sound environments, either choosing hearing protection or simply leaving the scenario protect the longevity of your hearing.
Our ears can withstand extremely loud noises, but excessive volumes can permanently damage our ability to hear.
Noise-induced hearing loss
While we cannot do much to interrupt the hearing loss that comes with the natural aging process, we are capable of staving off noise-induced hearing loss if we are aware of the factors that contribute to the condition. Both types of hearing loss impact our ears in a similar fashion, whereby the fine cells of the inner ear become damaged. These cells act as receptors for noise from the external world and turn noise into sound information to transmit to the brain. When they are damaged, they do not repair themselves. Instead, we don’t receive all of the world’s noise which we experience as hearing loss.
Decibels are the unit of measurement we use for sound. To give you some frame of reference, normal conversation is typically measured at 60 decibels. On the low end, the rustle of leaves is around 20 decibels, while a dishwasher might be 75 decibels. These are all sounds we can expose our hearing to without any risk of hearing loss.
It is when noises exceed 85 decibels that we begin to court danger. Experts agree that any volumes exceeding 85 decibels should be restricted to safe durations of exposure. In that case, exposure time should not exceed eight hours. As volumes increase, safe exposure times decrease. So, if sounds reach 100 decibels, limit your exposure to 15 minutes. Whenever possible, simply do not expose your ears to sounds exceeding 120 decibels, where damage can occur in as little as a minute.
Because people can experience permanent hearing loss due to excessive noise, we have federal regulations in place to protect them. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that workers do not exceed eight hours of exposure to sounds registering above 85 decibels. If the workplace conditions are loud enough, additional measures must be taken.
Additional interventions to prevent hearing loss in the workplace might look like mandated and employer-provided hearing protection, sound barriers or implementation of additional breaks.
Riskiest occupations for hearing health
Although speaking about hearing loss in the workplace might immediately bring to mind construction work or factory environments, it might surprise you to know that professional musicians and military personnel are both more detrimental to your hearing health.
Explosions, loud machinery like planes and tanks as well as gunfire are incredibly noisy and will frequently measure at 120 decibels of noise or more. Famously, some professional rock musicians like Chris Martin of Coldplay and James Hetfield of Metallica have spoken out about their hearing conditions resulting from rock concerts, which routinely fall between 100 and 120 decibels. Even classical musicians experience high incidences of hearing loss, as an orchestra can produce 100 decibels of noise in a symphony. Additionally, these musicians are more apt to teach private lessons outside of their own musicianship and performance.
Symptoms of hearing loss
The signs of hearing loss can be tricky to parse out because they can be subtle and gradual. As humans, we frequently adapt to slight changes in perception without even registering the cause or the effect. Speech clarity is an early warning sign of hearing loss. It can be frustrating to hold conversations because it seems as though everyone is mumbling.
Often, our friends and families notice the ensuing changes in our behavior resulting from hearing loss long before we do. The bright side is that the encouragement of loved ones is one of the most motivating factors that lead people to seek treatment.
Schedule a hearing consultation
Hearing loss is irreversible, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with it.Most hearing aid wearers are happy with their investment and would recommend hearing aids to a friend.
The first step is to schedule a hearing consultation. From there, we can diagnose your specific pattern of hearing loss and work together to find workable solutions.