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Hearing Loss Prevention and Protection

Exposure to excessive noise during work or leisure activities can increase a person’s risk of hearing loss and potentially worsen a pre-existing hearing problem. Doctors consider exposure to loud music, such as a rock concert or via headphones, to be particularly dangerous since the sound intensity can sometimes reach 110 – 120dB. Sudden impact sounds such as firecrackers or gunshots can reach as much as 150dB, permanently damaging your hearing in one single, fleeting moment.

Continuous exposure to 85 decibels (dB) or higher can have a detrimental effect on your hearing, especially down the road, when the damaging effects on the delicate hair cells of the cochlea — the inner-ear organ that relays sound signals to the brain — begin to surface. Noise damages your hearing much like the aging process does. In many ways, age related hearing loss (presbycusis) is a lifetime of “wear and tear” on the ear, which primarily manifests itself as a high frequency hearing loss. Repeated noise exposure early in life can be compounded as you get older, essentially speeding up the aging process. Since the hair cells in your inner ear never regenerate, your hearing is unlikely to get any better on its own after experiencing repeated traumatic events. Hearing damage suffered during teen years may not surface until your late 20s or early 30s — or even your 50s or 60s, when presbycusis, becomes a greater factor.

Activities that may cause hearing loss over time include: use of a personal music player at a high volume; motorcycle riding; operating heavy machinery; or use of power tools. The good news is that the noise in these cases is usually easily managed by turning down the volume or by wearing ear protection. Federal regulations govern allowable noise levels in the workplace, as well as the employer’s role in providing hearing protection. More information on this subject can be found at OSHA. In addition to using hearing protection, those who are regularly exposed to noise should have their hearing tested regularly.

 

Are There Consequences Later in Life if Hearing Loss Goes Untreated?

Protecting your hearing is important, as hearing loss is connected to a number of serious health ailments later in life. A very close relationship between hearing loss and dementia has been established in research. There is strong evidence that hearing loss accelerates brain-tissue atrophy, particularly in areas of the brain that auditory nerves would stimulate but can’t because they aren’t receiving a signal (due to a hearing loss). These areas of the brain are also related to memory and speech.

Individuals with a mild hearing loss are also three times more likely to fall down than those without, and the likelihood of falls increases as degree of hearing loss increases. Hearing loss has been linked to a variety of other diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sickle-cell anemia, and other circulatory conditions.
 

How loud is too loud?

A general rule of thumb is if you have to raise your voice to be heard over the music/noise, it may be loud enough to be hazardous. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, noises above 85 dB can cause hearing damage.

If you are unsure if the noise around you is too loud, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have difficulty talking or hearing others talk over the sound?
  • Does the sound make my ears hurt?
  • Do my ears ring or feel full after hearing the sound?
  • Do other sounds seem muffled after exposure?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, the noise may be damaging your hearing.

Medications and noise exposure

Certain medications are toxic to the ear (ototoxic). If you have a hearing loss, be sure to inform your doctor of your condition before beginning any new medications. There may be instances where other medications that are not toxic to the ear can be substituted. Many cancer medications can be ototoxic. Often, if you are exposed to high noise levels during the treatment process, you are at even higher risk for non-reversible hearing loss. Ask your Oncologist about the specific drugs you are currently receiving. If they are ototoxic, avoid loud situations.

Hearing Protection Options

Since there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss, prevention is the sensible alternative. Hearing protection prevents damaging noise levels by dampening the piercing sounds but still allowing you to hear the sounds you want to hear clearly. Our hearing protection goes beyond the kind of earplugs you buy at the drugstore — Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services offers a variety of custom-fit hearing protection designed to fit the contours of your ear perfectly, offering a snug, comfortable fit and all-day protection from dangerous noise.

Modern devices which protect your hearing such as commercially available earplugs or custom-made earmolds with various filter systems, can give effective protection against noise. There are specialty plugs for many needs, including those for motorcycle riding, for musicians, or sleeping. Specialty “shooters plugs” are available for hunters or others exposed to gunfire. In addition, often using custom earmolds with your earphones allows you to reduce background noise, making it possible to reduce the volume on your music player and still maintain excellent sound quality.

Earmuffs are also a viable option for hearing protection. However, many electronic earmuffs can be more damaging to your ears than the noise you are trying to avoid. If these are your method of choice, choose digital muffs with volume limiters below 85dB. Our best recommendation is the basic earmuff such as the Peltor H10A.

Specialty Ear Plugs

Hearing Protection for Musicians

Because musicians practice and perform in a variety of situations, they are four times more likely than the general population to suffer from hearing loss due to their profession. On top of time spent practicing instruments, concerts regularly exceed 110 dB — loud enough to cause hearing damage in a matter of minutes. Musicians who do not wear hearing protection face the likelihood of hearing loss at an early age, and they risk their careers in the process.

Passive earplugs
Custom and ready-fit Etymotic earplugs are designed to provide accurate sound reproduction, only quieter—and safer. They allow musicians to hear their own voice or instrument and also the way they are blending and balancing with the other musicians. Specialized filters with differing attenuation levels (7dB, 9dB, 15dB, and 25dB) are interchangeable, depending on duration and the level of noise you are being exposed to. These filters are designed to reduce noise levels equally across all frequencies, maintaining the ear’s natural response without distortion. Regular use of these high-fidelity earplugs while practicing, performing and listening to music will protect hearing from the cumulative effects of overexposure.

Electronic earplugs
Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services provides in-ear musicians’ monitors that are custom-fit to the unique contours of your ear, so they fit comfortably for your entire performance. The snug but comfortable seal ensures that you only hear sounds through your monitors at a volume that is appropriate for you and won’t damage your hearing — and the sound quality of our products are second to none.

Hearing Protection for Hunters and Shooters

As a hunter, your ears face the risk of immediate damage from gunshots — if you fire them without proper ear protection. Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services offers an array of custom-fit, essential protective gear for hunters and shooters. The hearing protection we fit you with is convenient to carry, and since it’s fit to the unique contours of your ear, it’s comfortable to wear.

We offer passive hearing protection as well as electronic hearing protection designed for hunters and shooters who want hearing protection as well as environmental awareness. Please call our office today or contact our office to schedule your appointment for custom-fit hearing protection!

 

Ear Protection for Sleeping

So many factors go into what makes a good night’s sleep — something that many people strive for but struggle with every day for one reason or another. Our practice believes in taking charge of what you can control, like blocking out nighttime noises that keep you awake when you should be resting deeply. Whether it’s the result of street noise, loud neighbors, or a snoring partner, our custom-fit ear protection is so comfortable, you’ll barely know it’s there — because you’ll be sleeping too soundly to notice.

A lack of sleep can lead to psychiatric troubles and is tied to a multitude of other health issues. Getting poor sleep at night means you go to work the next day tired, have low energy and poor concentration, and are probably more stressed than you otherwise would have been. Call Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services today for a solution to snoring, traffic, loud neighbors, and other factors that can ruin the most important part of your night.

Military and Police Personnel and Industrial and Manufacturing Professionals, Construction Workers

On a daily basis military and police personnel as well as those who work in industrial areas and manufacturing plants are exposed to noise. Whether it is from a hand-held radio or constant machinery noise, custom hearing protection is an option and should be considered. There are many low cost custom and non-custom options that are available. Contact Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services if you would like to review your options.

Frequently Asked Questions

Heavy-duty earmuffs can create a seal around the ear that cuts out noise to the same level as many earplugs. The main disadvantages of a larger headset are the possibility for less mobility, and the possibility that they may fall off, leaving the ears exposed for some period of time. Earplugs may also fall out or not be inserted properly from the beginning, but custom-fit earplugs are likely to stay sealed comfortably in the ear for as long as you’d like to wear them.
If you must raise your voice in order to be heard over the sound, you’re probably experiencing a dangerous amount of noise. Do what you can to move out of harm’s way, or cover your ears if possible until the noise passes.
Earplugs that fit snugly and seal tightly in your ear canal typically offer protection for a variety of situations. Custom-fit hearing protection offered by Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services can protect your ears from harmful noise levels while still allowing you to enjoy the activities you love.
Permissible noise exposure levels vary depending on the intensity of the sound and the duration of exposure within a 24 hour period. Hearing loss is cumulative, meaning that the less time you’re exposed to loud noises over the course of your life, the better your hearing health is likely to be. The point at which sound begins to damage hearing is 85 dB, for which the permissible daily exposure period is about eight hours. For each 3 dB increase in noise pressure, the permissible exposure time before hearing damage can occur is cut in half. For example, permissible exposure to 88 dB would be four hours, 91 dB would be two hours, 94 dB would be one hour, etc.
Once sound is loud enough, and you are exposed long enough for it to become dangerous, there is often a temporary loss of hearing known as temporary threshold shift (TTS). One will likely experience this after attending a concert or working with loud machinery or tools. Along with TTS, a person may experience tinnitus or a feeling of fullness in their ears. If the ear is given enough time to recover (approximately 16-48 hours of quiet) the temporary shift will often return back to baseline. However, with repeated exposure, your ear will not recover and the hearing loss will become permanent. It should be noted however, that depending on the noise level, duration and sudden impact of noise, medications you may be taking and a variety of other variables, hearing loss can become permanent even with one occurrence.
Do whatever you can to get away from that noise immediately. When a noise is painful, it’s likely that damage is being done to your hearing. Noises loud enough to cause pain are also typically loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage almost immediately. If pain, a feeling of fullness in your ears or tinnitus – ringing in your ears persists, have your hearing tested and seek advice from a medical professional.
Perhaps the most common loud noise you’ll encounter is freeway traffic, which can be loud enough to damage hearing (85 dB) when it’s heavy. Lawn mowers, chain saws, ambulances, garbage trucks, and motorcycles are all fairly common neighborhood or street sounds that can damage hearing. During certain times of the year, firecrackers, jackhammers, snowmobiles, or outdoor sporting equipment (guns included) might be sources of hazardous noise. And of course loud music — whether it’s through earbuds and a loud iPod or in person at a concert — is one of the most common culprits of hearing loss today.
Eastside Audiology & Hearing Services can fit you with custom hearing protection that defends the delicate inner ear against harmful noise levels.