When we learn something that could harm our health, one of the first questions we ask is how to protect ourselves. It’s a good question. Hearing loss makes a big impact on individuals and families, and prevention could save you a lot of heartache down the road.
While some causes of hearing loss are not preventable, you can prevent hearing loss by being careful about exposure to loud sounds at work or in other environments, and wearing hearing protection when you will be exposed to excessive noise levels.
Why Is Preventing Hearing Loss So Important?
Repeated exposure to noise in early life can be compounded in later years, and it may not even become apparent until decades later. Hair cells of the inner ear never regenerate, so hearing loss caused by repeated noise trauma isn’t likely to get better on its own.
Hearing loss has also been connected to a number of serious health concerns like dementia, falling, isolation, and depression.
What Are The Common Causes Of Hearing Loss?
Common causes of hearing loss include genetics, damage to some portion of the inner ear, middle ear, or outer ear, and loud noise. Hearing health can also be affected by other conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, ototoxic meds from cancer, or smoking. [Read more about the common causes of hearing loss]
How Loud Is Too Loud? I’m Worried About Noise Exposure.
How can you tell when loud noises might harm your hearing? If you need to raise your voice to be heard over the sound, it’s loud enough that you should be wearing hearing protection. And the louder the sound, the shorter the time you can be exposed to it before it starts damaging your hearing.
You can also ask yourself if the noise seems louder than a lawnmower or leaf blower, which usually average around 80 to 85 decibels. If it’s louder than a lawnmower, be careful! Exposure at this level for even two hours can cause damage. Noise levels above 85 decibels are considered the threshold at which one’s hearing is endangered, and where existing hearing loss can be made worse. Very loud environments such as concerts, sports events, or nightclubs can be 100-110 decibels, causing damage in as little as 5 to 15 minutes.
You’ll need hearing protection at these noise levels, but remember, you can try headphones or earbuds to see what works best.
Many jobs, and safety laws that protect you while working require hearing protection in loud environments, but hearing protection is recommended in all situations where your hearing is vulnerable.
How Do I Choose Between The Different Types Of Hearing Protection?
Proper hearing protection stifles piercing sounds but lets through the sounds you want to hear. In some cases, heavy-duty earmuffs resembling a headset are the best option, but custom-fit earplugs can also be a good solution. Speak to your hearing care providers, they can help you select the protection you need.
Other Types Of Hearing Protection
Certain activities have specialized hearing protection technology:
- Musicians’ in-ear studio monitors
- Firearms and industrial environment hearing protection
- Swimmers’ ear protection
How Can I Tell When Loud Sounds Are Too Loud?
Lots of everyday sounds are loud enough to cause damage. This includes freeway traffic, lawn mowers, chain saws, firearms, snowmobiles, and motorcycles. Loud music at concerts, through speakers, or through earbuds or headphones is a common cause of hearing loss. Heavy equipment or machinery can also pose risks.
And remember, when noise is painful, it’s likely that damage is being done to your hearing, possibly permanently. These everyday noises can reach 110 decibels or more, which can endanger your hearing within minutes. Some common sounds, such as gunfire, can damage hearing on the spot.
How Long Can I Be Exposed To Loud Noises Before They Affect My Hearing?
It depends! The risk goes up the longer you’re exposed, but the tricky part is that damage adds up. Hearing loss is cumulative, meaning the less time you’re exposed to loud noises over the course of your life, the better your potential hearing health.
I’m Worried About Preventing Hearing Loss! What Should I Do?
See a hearing healthcare professional to chat about your exposure to loud sounds, and to ask about custom-fit hearing protection.