As schools let out for summer and vacation gets into full swing, I urge readers to protect their own, and their children's, hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed.
Summer brings a chorus of sweet sounds. But it also brings noise that can be harmful to our ears. Prolonged exposure to the roar of lawn mowers, power tools, motorized recreational vehicles, target shooting, concerts, loud sporting events, and fireworks all can wreak havoc on our hearing. In fact, the single bang of a firecracker at close range can permanently damage hearing in an instant, making it forever more difficult to hear the subtler sounds of summer.
While many noisy recreational activities are part of summer's delight, it is extremely important to take precautions to ensure that these activities do not damage our hearing.
Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss; both the loudness of the noise and the length of time you're exposed to it matter. However, by taking some simple measures, people can protect their hearing while still enjoying their summer activities.
Do all you can to limit the length of time you spend in a noisy environment. When you do participate in noisy activities, alternate them with periods of quiet. When you know you will be exposed to loud sounds, use earplugs. Disposable earplugs are typically available at local pharmacies. We also offer custom ear protection which will ensure a proper fitting mold, further reducing the risk of unwanted noise exposure.
When watching fireworks displays, stay a safe distance away, where you can enjoy the colors and lights, but not expose yourself and your family to loud noises. To protect your hearing, make sure you are wearing earplugs and that they are securely in place before the show begins; and, be sure to keep them in for the entire show. Even firecrackers pose a risk to your hearing as they produce sounds starting at more than 40 decibels above what OSHA considers unsafe which presents the risk of irreversible ear damage.
When listening to smartphones and MP3 players, keep them at a low volume. This can be a tough thing to monitor with children and teens but it's important to limit their volume with the use of headphones and ear-buds. If they can't understand a conversational-level voice at arm's length away, it's too loud.
Protect against swimmer's ear by making sure to dry ears completely after swimming. Do your best to drain any residual water from your ear canal. Also, monitor the bacterial count when swimming at the beach. Many beaches post signs. Stay out of the water on the days that the bacterial counts are high. If you are still concerned, a few drops of white vinegar in each ear canal will help reduce troubles.
We often take our hearing for granted, but the truth is that hearing loss, especially when left unaddressed, affects our quality of life. Hearing is a significant connection to the world, and we should do all we can to protect it.
The cells of the ear that are the first to be damaged or die are those that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds clearly, like the sounds of birds singing and children speaking. Ironically, these are the sounds my clients report missing the most.
Repeated exposure to loud noise, over an extended period of time, presents serious risks to hearing health as well. If you have to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within arm's length, the noise is probably in the dangerous range. Warning signs include pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area, ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise or you suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise (you can hear people talking but cannot understand them).
Please enjoy your summer, but not at the risk of your hearing. Family gatherings, visiting grandchildren, attending summer's many concerts and the sound of summer song birds are the things you will miss one day if you don't take measures to protect your hearing today.
Doctor of Audiology