Have you noticed the toll that our noisy world takes on your concentration? It can also be working invisibly to undermine the health of your hearing. For many people over the age of 65, noise and aging are both at play in causing later onset hearing loss.
While we can’t lower the volume of the world, there are measures you can take to safeguard your hearing and protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss.
What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Both noise and aging can harm hearing in similar ways. Both attack the delicate cells of the inner ear, which play an important role in collecting sound from the world around us. They receive noise and transmute it into sound information in the form of electrical signals. These electrical signals are then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve.
As time and noise inflict damage upon the health of these cells, they don’t reproduce nor do we grow new ones. Instead, we have less healthy cells to do the integral work of gathering all of the sound waves around us. We are unable to collect the full spectrum of frequency when we have a declining resource of inner ear cells.
How Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Shows Up In Life
Over time, as we lose more inner ear cells, this accumulation shows up in how we hear. At first, people tend to lose access to frequencies. This might differ from expectations of hearing loss where we might expect that the overall volume of our lives declines. This is rarely the case. Instead, speech clarity becomes an issue as what we are able to hear is an incomplete picture of what’s being said with missing frequencies.
Widely shared signs of early hearing loss might include asking people to repeat themselves more often, turning the volume on the television all the way up to hear dialogue and having trouble hearing during phone conversations.
Safe And Unsafe Sounds
Noise itself is not the problem in most cases, but rather, it is when noise reaches unsafe levels. Our sense of hearing can safely handle volumes below 85 decibels — the measurement of sound. For reference, human conversation usually falls in the 60-65 decibels range. Loud traffic can reach close to unsafe levels, at around 80-85 decibels. We get into dangerous territory with volumes above 85 decibels, such as a lawnmower (90 decibels) or high volumes played on personal devices using earbuds (up to 100 decibels).
The Occupational Hazard Of Noise On Hearing
Excessive noise can be a problem in many career paths. The occupations with the highest rates of noise-induced hearing damage include the military, agricultural workers, manufacturing and professional musicians.
This type of hearing damage, that which happens in the workplace, is important to note because noise-induced hearing loss can happen slowly and over long periods of time. Spending one day using farm machinery might not irrevocably harm your hearing, but spending years or decades on a tractor without hearing protection almost certainly will.
Thankfully, there are federal protections in place and managed by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). According to their guidelines, workers cannot be subjected to sounds over 85 decibels for more than eight hours without safety interventions like more frequent breaks, noise barriers and hearing protection.
Recreational Sounds That Harm Hearing
The insidious noise damage we accumulate, though, often comes from recreational activities. Our world can be noisy and as amplification technology improves, it seems to get even more so.
Take a simple trip to the movie theater, for instance. There is no sound regulation in the industry and therefore, volumes can vary widely. An investigative report done within the last decade found that a blockbuster action flick had decibel levels into the low 100’s. This can harm hearing within a matter of minutes.
Snowmobiling, boating, live music, recreational shooting and even sporting events can exceed 100 decibels of sound and rarely carry a warning label of potential damage.
Protect Your Hearing
Investing in hearing protection can drastically lower your exposure to the damage of excessive noise. While custom hearing protection lends the best value, even the disposable foam earplugs that are sold at many concert venues can offer up a modicum of refuge.
Schedule A Hearing Consultation
If you’re concerned about the levels of noise damage already incurred throughout a lifetime or want more individualized information on how to protect your ears from too-loud sounds, schedule a hearing consultation with our team today. Together, we’ll help you chart the clearest path forward.