While hearing loss is commonly regarded as a sign of old age, it is in fact an issue that can affect people of all ages. This is due to many factors including head trauma, certain medications and infections, however the largest cause of hearing loss in younger people is due to exposure to noise. An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) suffer permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. Our world just keeps getting noisier and it is up to us to know when our hearing is at risk and how to best protect our ears in these instances.
While we hear with our ears we process sound with our brains. Sounds like running water or wind blowing through the trees can be relaxing and our favorite song or the voice of someone we love can release endorphins and bring us joy. However when sound becomes too noisy it can damage the fragile hair cells in our inner ear, which send sound information to the brain to be processed. When this occurs the effects are irreversible. This is why protecting your hearing is essential.
When is Your Hearing in Danger?
Sound is measured in decibels and any sound that exceeds 85 decibels is considered a threat to our hearing. However it is not just the decibel level that is a danger but also the length of exposure. Exposure to sound at 85 decibels for a few minutes will not be a problem for your ears but this level of exposure for eight hours or more day after day can create a serious hearing problem. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has created standards that mandate that any worker exposed to 85 decibels or more for eight or more hours will be provided hearing protection from their employer at no cost to the employee.
Work Activities and Hearing Loss
As decibel levels rise, the time it takes for us to sustain hearing damage becomes less and less. If you work in a particularly loud environment where decibel levels soar, the same level of damage can incur in weeks, minutes or seconds, as a decade of exposure to 85 decibels five days a week. Some professions that are notoriously loud include construction jobs, farmers, miners, factory workers, and mechanics. Hearing protection must be provided and worn to protect all workers’ ears from developing hearing loss. Other professions that offer an extreme exposure to hazardous sounds include emergency workers who hear loud sirens all day, nightlife workers who spend hours in noisy clubs and musicians who spend hours a day listening to the nuisance of sound.
Leisure Activities and Hearing Loss
While it is commonly understood that your hearing can be at risk at work, many people don’t take hearing protection as seriously during leisure time. However there are many activities, sports and hobbies that can quickly damage your hearing. If you mow you lawn weekly these sounds can reach 90 db, which is way over safe listening levels. If you enjoy riding motorcycles or jet skiing then your hearing can be damaged quickly without adequate protection. Measurements of motorcycle riding noise levels vary, but are generally measured 85-95 dB at speeds up to 35 mph and can climb as high as climbing 110-116 dB at highway speeds of 65 mph.
Earbuds and Hearing Loss
One of the greatest threats to our hearing is caused by personal media devices, which can deliver decibel levels higher than 100 db directly to our ear canal. While many of us have normalized headphone listening at work, for exercise, for leisure and for speaking over the phone, this is becoming one of the greatest causes of noise induced hearing in people of all ages. To ensure safe listening practices, make sure to keep your personal media devices lower than 60% of its potential volume and give your ears a listening break every hour or two.
Protect Your Hearing
Protecting your hearing starts with you. Make sure to be aware of the decibel levels in the work and leisure activities you participate in the most. If you do suspect you have hearing loss, make sure you test your hearing and seek treatment immediately. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!