Noise exposure is one of the most prevalent causes of a hearing impairment. Common among all ages, a noise-induced hearing loss is typically permanent in nature and 100% preventable with the use of earplugs. Such causes could be due to excessive exposure to construction sites (up to 96 decibels) music venues (up to 110 decibels) or personal audio players (up to 105 decibels). More recently, it has been reported that even living in noisy metropolitan areas will increase the risk of hearing loss by roughly 64%.
Temporary Noise Induced Hearing Loss
When a person is exposed to excessive noise for too long, tinnitus (ringing in the ear) or a noticeable change in hearing may occur for a short period of time. If their hearing recovers and the symptom of tinnitus subsides, this is known as a temporary threshold shift. Although it is considered reversible, consistent exposure will cause permanent damage over time. Therefore, it is recommended that either the sound source be avoided or ear plugs be worn if this occurs.
Hidden Hearing Loss
It is possible that the lasting effects of excessive noise may not always be seen on standard audiometric hearing tests. In fact, until recently, noise exposure was thought to cause a hearing loss due to damage of sensory hair cells. Now it has been discovered that loud noise may affect the nerve fibers that carry sound from the inner ear to the brain as well. Degrading speech understanding in the presence of noise, this symptom is a common complaint in age-related hearing loss. However, more recently research reported that this symptom can also affect individuals with normal hearing. With limited objective testing for proper diagnosis, audiologists will often refer to this type of deficit as a “hidden hearing loss”.
Hearing Conservation Programs
Mandatory in noisy occupational settings, hearing conservation programs consider sounds exceed 85 decibels potentially dangerous without the use of ear protection. Beyond the workplace, recent research determined the prevalence of hearing loss due to recreational noise exposure in young children and adults. To prevent the risk of hearing loss, programs like Dangerous Decibels, It’s a Noisy Planet. Protect Your Hearing and Listen to your Buds emphasize the importance of protecting your hearing and wearing ear plugs at an early age. With the overuse of earbuds and personal audio players, these hearing conservation programs play a key role in preventing the epidemic of a noise-induced hearing loss in children.
Types of Ear Protection
Over the counter, disposable ear plugs such as 3M E.A.R. Classic or Mack’s are typically made of foam material and may be purchased at most convenient stores.
For the little ones, Em’s For Kids are available for babies 0 to 18 months of age.
Custom ear plugs are made for the workplace and/or the avid concert goer or any other hobby enthusiasts exposed to excessive noise.
As we live in one of the noisiest cities in the world, it is important to be aware of how often you are exposed to loud sounds. To get started, download noise meter apps like Listen Carefully… and remember, when in doubt, protect your hearing and show off those ear plugs!