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Thus far, we have discussed hearing aids and technology, but let’s go back to the basics and talk about what can be done to preserve hearing so that hearing aids may not be necessary for years to come. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration report that 30 million people a year in the U.S. are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise. Keep in mind that those are workers, that’s not even counting the hunters, shooters, concert goers, musicians, motorcyclists, and so forth.
Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss, even if you are only exposed for a short amount of time. Short term exposure to loud noise can cause a temporary change in hearing (called a temporary threshold shift) or ringing in the ears, and while these may go away within a few minutes or hours, repeated exposures can lead to permanent ringing (tinnitus) and/or hearing loss. (www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation)
A commonly asked question is “How do I know if my workplace or my recreational activity is too loud?” If you are hearing ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work or your activity, it could be too loud. If you have to shout to be heard by someone a few feet away, it could be too loud. If you experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work or your activity, it could be too loud.
It’s not just long, steady noises that can damage your ears…short, loud noises can hurt them, too. For instance, fireworks going off near your ears, or shooting without protection can permanently damage your ears. (insert this table: http://www.westone.com/defendear/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=92&Itemid=111)
There are three main types of hearing protective devices: insert plugs, custom fit plugs, and ear muffs. The insert plugs are inserted into the ear canals, but they must fit in deeply in order to completely block off the canal. They are pre-molded (like you would purchase at the drug store) and typically give a flat response (blocking all frequencies about the same amount). Custom fit earplugs are made specifically for your ear, so there are no gaps and it’s not likely they will fall out. Since they are custom fit, your hearing healthcare professional is able to tailor how they respond to sound specifically for you. The last type is earmuffs, which completely cover the ear with a hollow cup that is insulated. They are held into place with a headband.
Wearing earplugs or custom fit hearing protectors are the best way to help save your hearing when you are exposed to loud noises. A visit to your hearing healthcare professional for a set of impressions and some advice about what the best solution is would be a great start…hearing protectors will run $100-200 a pair, but are much less expensive than hearing aids! Hearing protectors can be made in lots of different ways and are much more sophisticated than the drugstore earplugs (although we shouldn’t knock those; they will do in a pinch). Personal hearing protection can but made to have filters in them to let in the appropriate environmental sounds, like for a musician who is trying to hear the other musicians around him. Or they can be built with a filter or vent so that a hunter is able to hear in the forest. Or they can be built to fit under a motorcycle helmet to help eliminate wind noise! For hunters and shooters, the protectors have a valve that closes to protect the ear when a shot is fired, but otherwise remains open. Even industrial workers who wear noise plugs 40 hours a week will have options when it comes to protecting their hearing.
Simply blocking the barrier of sound with insert plugs, custom fit hearing protectors, or even the big earmuffs will all help attenuate noise and protect your ears. It is also possible to combine two types (i.e. custom fit plugs + earmuffs, insert plugs + earmuffs) to create even more of a barrier for the noise to get through and protect yourself further.
So please, the next time you go to a rock concert, practice target shooting, or even just go to work…protect yourself! Your ears will thank you!
Until Next time,