The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has declared that every October is Protect Your Hearing Month. This month-long initiative seeks to raise awareness and increase education around the dangers of noise induced hearing loss and how to protect yourself.
What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Have you ever left a sporting event, or a concert and your ears are ringing? This ringing is technically called tinnitus and is a sign of hearing damage. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when sounds exceed a certain threshold, which damages the tiny cells of the inner ear. These cells are called stereocilia and when sounds surpass the threshold the vibrations cause stereocilia to become damaged or destroyed. Stereocilia collect sound from our ears and send them to our brain where they are processed. When they become damaged due to noise, they can no longer transmit sound to the brain.
Know the Signs
When damage occurs, you might not notice at first. In fact, it is normal for people to live many years without being aware of hearing loss, until they struggle to hear, even in the most ideal of listening environments. The longer you go with hearing loss the worse the side effects become so it’s important to catch it early. Here are a few common signs:
- Speech may sound muffled.
- You may have difficulty understanding words, especially amongst background noise.
- Trouble with the differentiation of consonants.
- Asking people frequently to speak more slowly, clearly, and loudly or repeat themselves.
- Others complain you listen to the TV or radio too loudly when it sounds fine to you.
Dangers of Untreated Hearing Loss
You may not think it’s a big deal to have a little bit of hearing loss, but over time it can compound into much more serious issues. Primarily, hearing loss is a communication issue and left untreated, over the years it can drive a wedge between you and your personal and professional relationships. At home miscommunications and disagreements over the volume of the TV can compound into a loss of intimacy in partners and distance between family members. In a professional setting, misunderstandings can lead to coworkers and employers to be less inclined to give you opportunities in the workplace. The Better Hearing Institute reports that, on average, people with untreated hearing loss make 30,000 less annually than those with normal hearing. Hearing loss can also cause chronic depression, anxiety, and lead people to self-isolate. This in turn can decrease physical activity and lead to other chronic health issues, such as dementia and a greater risk of falls, and hospitalizations.
The Importance of Treatment
NIHL is permanent but it isn’t untreatable. Despite the dangers of untreated hearing loss, wearing hearing aids can reduce many of these effects. They can help you hear the people around you so you can start to connect again. Researchers have found that the use of hearing aids at work can reduce the loss of earnings suffered by those who don’t treat it by 75%. Hearing aids also cut down on the brain’s need to strain to hear, reducing the cognitive load and significantly lowering the risk of dementia. These amazing devices can improve your self-esteem, sense of independence, and increase mobility.
Protect Your Hearing
If you can remember to wear hearing protection whenever you may be exposed to loud noise. You are not just protecting your hearing but your complete health. Ear plugs and protective headphones can reduce the decibel level by 15 to 33 dB which can protect you from many listening situations. If you do suspect you have a hearing loss, don’t delay in seeking treatment. Use Protect Your Hearing Month as a call to finally deal with your hearing. Schedule a hearing test today.