Throughout our lives we are bombarded with a steady stream of sound — in schools, at home, at work, and out and about. And sometimes these sounds get so loud that they begin to damage our hearing.
Today, nearly one in two people over the age of 50 often has difficulty understanding what people say when it is noisy, and that number is likely to increase in the future. Young people are at risk of losing their hearing faster than previous generations due to more exposure to loud music and noisy environments.
Our hearing helps us get educated, find jobs, build families and lasting friendships, which is why it is worth taking care of.
The intensity of sound is measured in decibels sound pressure level (dB SPL). A soft whisper might be no higher than 30 dB SPL, while a firecracker might be as loud as 150 dB SPL.
Sounds are considered harmful when they exceed 85 dB SPL, which is about the loudness of heavy traffic. But at nightclubs and rock concerts, sound levels soar to more than 100 dB SPL. Over time this can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus (permanent ringing or buzzing in the ears).
When Is It Time to Protect Your Hearing?
Noise can be harmful virtually anywhere. The blast of a gun or fireworks can cause instant impairment, whereas the steady drone of heavy machinery can to damage in the long run. In most cases this happens gradually, so you still have time to care about your hearing and learn to protect it! If there is too much noise, this is how you will experience it:
- You cannot hear someone talking, even though they are within an arm’s length away.
- Your ears hurt after leaving a noisy area.
- You hear ringing or buzzing in your ears during or after exposure to noise.
- After exposure to noise, you can hear people taking but their speech sounds muffled or blurred.
The human auditory system contains delicate and complex mechanisms. The inner ear is home to a sea of tiny sensory cells and nerve fibres that pick up sound vibrations and turn them into electrical impulses for the brain to process.
Too many strong vibrations will damage these cells and fibres, and the more you lose, the worse your hearing will get. Broken cells and fibres cannot heal themselves, so any damage will be permanent. This can take the form of tinnitus and/or noise-induced hearing loss.
Some Simple, Protective Steps
Think about your total sound exposure during the day. The simplest way to start protecting your hearing is by limiting the amount of time you expose your ears to loud noise. But there are other methods as well:
- Move away
- Stay as far away from the source of noise as possible
- Walk away when sounds get too loud
- Turn things down
- At home, turn down the volume on the television radio, stereo, and MP3 players
- Reduce the number of noisy appliances running at the same time
- Buy quieter products (compare dB ratings – the smaller the better)
- Cover your ears
- Use ear protection wherever possible
- When you are exposed to sudden loud noises (like a jackhammer), cup your hands over your ears or put a fingertip into each ear canal
Earplugs for All Occasions!
Ear protectors come in all shapes and sizes. Even though they might feel strange at first, getting used to wearing them does not take long.
- Disposable earplugs – crafted in expandable foam or silicone, and available from any pharmacy and many hearing clinics, disposable earplugs come in one size that fits most ears.
- Reusable plugs – made of rubber or silicon, reusable plugs are often cone-shaped, with a safety cord. They can be cleaned with warm soapy water and worn safely for months, but as soon as they become hard or damaged they should be replaced.
- Earmuffs – resembling stereo headphones, these cushioned earmuffs are available from sporting goods, safety equipment stores or do-it-yourself retailers, along with many hearing clinics. Worn alone they should tightly cover year ears, but they can also be combined with earplugs in extremely noisy situations.
- Custom-fit musician’s earplugs – these handcrafted earmolds sound more natural because they attenuate all sounds to the same degree. If you are in frequent need of protection, these are the best option.
- Custom-fit industrial earplugs – these are also handcrafted earmolds that precisely fit the shape of your ear and offer excellent protection from industrial noise, with a high level of comfort for full-day wear.