Excessive noise exposure is a very common cause of hearing loss, and is one of the most common occupational hazards in the U.S. Repetitious exposure to loud machinery over time can decrease hearing sensitivity. Even a single loud sound within a close range can instantly damage hearing! Many have already acquired irreversible damage and others are exposed to dangerously high levels of noise daily, while most take no notice. Noise-induced hearing impairment is often so gradual that its effects are downplayed by the listener with the loss.
Noise decreases hearing sensitivity by damaging the fragile sensory cells in the inner ear (the organ of hearing; cochlea). Over time, these damaged cells lead to sensorineural hearing impairment and may be accompanied by ringing in the ears (tinnitus). These excessive levels of noise are most often experienced in noisy places of employment or during noisy recreational activities.
It is fairly easy to tell when noise levels are stretching into dangerous territory. If you must raise your voice to be heard over a noise to someone within a few feet, you are probably exceeding safe noise levels. You should be able to hear someone clearly within three feet of you if noise levels are not too high. If you experience pain, ringing (tinnitus), or a plugged feeling when leaving a noisy area, you may be exceeding noise standards.
In order to prevent noise-induced hearing impairment, there are precautions that may be taken. Avoiding or reducing the frequency of noisy recreational activities (e.g., ‘clubbing’, attending movie theaters or sporting events, operating loud recreational equipment, like lawn mowers, motorcycles, etc., and riding around in bass booming music-filled cars). Wearing appropriate hearing protection during these activities may also decrease the likelihood of acquiring hearing impairment. Limit your exposure time during these pursuits.
Appropriate ear plugs and muffs should also be used in noisy occupational settings. Many employers will give hearing protection by requirement or request. Make certain that your employer is abiding by OSHA regulations. Hearing protection can also be found in the pharmacy sections of many stores. Always ask your healthcare providers about the safety of your current prescriptions to your hearing. If possible, use alternative medications or methods for treatments.
Preventing hearing impairment in the first place is the best way to keep your good hearing health. Contact your local hearing healthcare provider for more information about how to protect your hearing. Being aware of your noise surroundings is a good start. When you are aware, you are more like to take steps to care for your hearing! Prevent hearing loss today!
Robin Barnes Hardin has more than 30 years of professional experience in audiology. She has served as director of Audiology at both the Atlanta Ear Clinic and Northeast Georgia ENT. She also has taught in the University of Georgia’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She is a member the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech Language Hearing Association, the Georgia Academy of Audiology and the Georgia Speech Language Hearing Association. She received the Clinical Achievement Award for the State of Georgia from the American Speech Language Hearing Foundation in 1987. In addition to presenting research to peer organizations, Hardin also serves on the Oconee County Warrior Foundation Board and is a member/sustainer of the Junior League of Athens. She and her husband live in Oconee County, and their son attends the University of Georgia.
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