Preventing and dealing with hearing loss.
By Jill Case
Fall is coming, and with it some of the things we especially enjoy in Texas— hunting season, sporting events, F1 and concerts. What might surprise you is how these activities might be harming you. Without precautionary steps these activities can be contributing factors to hearing loss. There are many causes of hearing loss at every age, but one of the most common causes is exposure to loud noises over a period of time.
In general, one loud noise will not cause hearing loss, but repeated exposure definitely can. Noise is measured in decibels (dB), and, generally repeated, prolonged exposure to anything over 85 dB can be dangerous for your hearing. For example, a vacuum cleaner usually creates about 75 dB, while a gunshot creates about 140 dB. A concert generates 120-130 dB or more, and one F1 race car revs up a whopping 147 dB.
How can you tell if the noise you are hearing is too loud? The Hearing Loss Association of America says there is too much noise if:
- You have to raise your voice to be heard
- Your ears hurt
- You develop a buzzing or ringing noise in your ears
- You don’t hear as well as you normally do several hours after the event
- You can protect your ears by wearing earplugs or ear protection, avoiding loud noises, or even putting your hands over your ears if there are no earplugs available.
According to a Sight and Hearing Association article about hunting and hearing loss, “Most firearms range from 140 to 170 decibels.” This is a dangerous level—any sound above 85 dB has the ability to cause permanent damage to your hearing, but this is loud enough to cause permanent damage instantly. If you value your eardrums, the association recommends an electronic hearing protection device, which are smart devices that “close off sounds louder than 110 dB, such as gunfire.”
Whether you are a musician or just a concert lover, you are exposing your eardrums to loud sounds. How can you hear the music that is so important to you while still blocking the noise? The answer is musician’s earplugs, which reduce the decibel levels while still allowing you to hear the undistorted music. Custom-fitted earplugs can also be created exclusively for your ears, though they can cost more than $100 (plus the audiologist’s fee for the impressions). See your audiologist or check online at a source like the Earplug Store.
At a minimum, you should wear foam earplugs, but for better protection, you should consider headband-style ear muffs (sometimes called ear protectors). Many race fans enjoy listening to scanners, and there is ear protection available that allows you to hear the scanner while still blocking out the harmful noise. For babies and children, ear protection made especially in their size (for a proper fit) is extremely important if you are taking your family to the races.
Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus), or persistent ringing in the ears, is a problem for one in five people. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, “Tinnitus is not a disease itself; it is a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system, including the ear, the auditory nerve and the areas of the brain that process sound.” Some causes include:
- Age-related loss of hearing
- Exposure to loud noise
- Earwax blockage
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s Disease
- TMJ (muscle and joint) disorders
- Head or neck injuries
- Medications (antibiotics, cancer medications, diuretics, some antidepressants and high doses of aspirin)
The condition can cause sleep problems and fatigue, as well as stress, difficulties with concentration and memory. You might want to see an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) or audiologist to get help with your tinnitus. There are no medications that can get rid of tinnitus, but doctors may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants or Alprazolam (Niravam, Xanax) to help reduce your symptoms. They may also recommend white-noise machines, hearing aids or masking devices. For more information, visit hearinghealthfoundation.org.
ARE YOU LOSING YOUR HEARING?
How can you tell if you are suffering from a hearing loss, whether noise-induced, age-related or otherwise? Symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Speech and other sounds seem muffled to you.
- You have difficulty hearing and understanding words, especially when there is background noise.
- You need to turn up the TV, radio or computer sound to a higher volume.
- You constantly ask people to repeat something or to speak up.
- You withdraw from or avoid social situations or conversations.
If you or your family members notice these symptoms, you should see a doctor for a hearing test as soon as possible to prevent further hearing loss. Denying the problem is not the answer and will only lead to further problems. If you value your hearing, protect it!
In her book Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss, Melissa Rodriguez shares stories about the life-changing effect that hearing aids can have on a person’s life. One man’s hearing test showed that his hearing ability was only at about 44 percent, yet he refused to get a hearing aid. Two years after his test, he had to return for a hearing aid, but the wait had cost him his job. Rodriguez says there are many options available today, and the analog technology that was used from the 1930s through the 1990s should not be considered an option. You should instead look for a hearing aid that uses digital technology.
According to Rodriguez, “Digital technology means the [analog]sound gets sent through a converter so that these sound waves are now a series of digits. These digits can now be manipulated with precision.”
The cost of hearing aids varies—anywhere from $1,000 to more than $5,000 each. Rodriguez recommends that you see a trusted audiologist or a hearing aid specialist and to trust your instincts and seek out a second opinion if necessary. Rodriguez says that it is best to get a hearing aid as soon as you find out about the loss.
“It is much easier to adapt to amplification with a mild hearing loss, and hearing aids prevent misunderstanding and missing out on the important sounds around you. If you wait too long, hearing aids are more difficult to adapt to and the help they can provide is more limited.”