10% of Americans have some type of hearing loss that affects his or her life-style. Natural Aging hearing loss is the most common cause of this condition and is more common than hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises.
However, exposure to to loud noises can damage hearing, and it is important to understand the effects of this type of exposure, particularly because it can be avoided and can be prevented with hearing protection products.
WHAT CAUSES HEARING LOSS?
The ear has three main parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear (the part you can see) opens into the ear canal. The eardrum separates the ear canal from the middle ear. Small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound vibrations to the inner ear. Here, the vibrations become nerve impulses, which the brain interprets as music, a slamming door, a voice, and so on.
When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the nerve endings in the inner ear. Prolonged exposure to loud noise destroys nerve endings. As the number of nerve endings decreases, so does your hearing. There is no way to restore life to dead nerve endings; the damage is permanent. The longer you are exposed to a loud noise, the more damaging it may be. Also, the closer you are to the source of intense noise, the more damaging it is.
APPROXIMATE EXAMPLES OF DECIBEL LEVELS:
- Faintest sound heard by human ear: 0 dB
- Whisper, quiet library: 30 dB
- Normal conversation, sewing machine, typewriter: 60 dB
- Lawnmower, shop tools, truck traffic: 90 dB
- Chainsaw, pneumatic drill, snowmobile: 100 dB
- Sandblasting, loud rock concert, auto horn: 115 dB
- Gun muzzle blast, jet engine (such noise can cause pain and even brief exposure injures unprotected ears): 149 dB
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administrations limit for noise without hearing protectors: 140 dB
Decibels (dB) measure the intensity of sound. The scale runs from the faintest sound the human ear can detect, which is labeled 0 dB, to more than 180 dB, the noise at a rocket pad during launch. Most experts agree that continual exposure to more than 85 decibels is dangerous. Recent studies show an alarming increase in noise-related hearing loss in young people.
Pitch is the frequency of sound vibrations per second measured in hertz or kilohertz, and duration. A low pitch, such as a deep voice or a tuba, makes fewer vibrations per second than a high voice or violinthe higher the pitch, the higher the frequency. Loss of high-frequency hearing also can make speech sound muffled.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY HEARING IS DAMAGED?
Hearing loss usually develops over a period of several years. Because it is painless and gradual, you might not notice it. What you might notice is a ringing or other sound in your ear (tinnitus), which could be the result of long-term exposure to noise that has damaged hearing nerves. Or you may have trouble understanding what people say; they may seem to be mumbling, especially when you are in a noisy place such as a crowd or a party. This could be the beginning of high-frequency hearing loss; a hearing test will detect it.
If you have any of these symptoms, they may be caused by impacted wax or an ear infection, which are relatively easy to correct. However, you may suffer from noise-related hearing loss. In any case, take no chances with noisethe hearing loss it causes is permanent. If you suspect hearing loss, consult a physician with special training in ear care and hearing disorders (called an otolaryngologist or otologist). This doctor can diagnose your hearing problem and recommend the best way to manage it. For more information on the laws for on-the-job noise exposure, please refer to the information provided at www.entnet.org.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF AGAINST NOISE?
Wear hearing protection is necessary, especially if you work in an excessively noisy environment, such as industrial environment. You should also wear hearing protection when using power tools, noisy yard equipment, or firearms, or riding a motorcycle or snowmobile. Hearing protection products come in three forms: electronic protection, filtered protection and passive protection. These three forms of hearing protection can come in Custom molded (custom-fit) earplugs, Flanged earplugs, Foam earplugs, Silicone earplugs, and earmuffs.
All earplugs are small inserts that fit into the outer ear canal. They must be sealed snugly so the entire circumference of the ear canal is blocked. An improperly fitted, dirty, or worn-out plug may not seal properly and can result in irritation of the ear canal. Plugs are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit individual ear canals and can be custom-fit. For people who have trouble keeping them in their ears, the plugs can be fitted to a headband.
Earmuffs fit over the entire outer ear to form an air seal so the entire circumference of the ear canal is blocked, and they are held in place by an adjustable band. Earmuffs will not seal around eyeglasses or long hair, and the adjustable headband tension must be sufficient to hold earmuffs firmly in place. EAR.com carries a wide selection of earplugs and earmuffs and can be shipped within 24 hours.
We also have a wide selection of Personal Sound Amplification Products — or PSAPs — offer many of the benefits of hearing aids at a fraction of the cost. As the name suggests, PSAPs amplify sounds but do not address other components of hearing loss, such as distortion. However, they are considerably cheaper than hearing aids.
WILL I HEAR OTHER PEOPLE AND MACHINE PROBLEMS IF I WEAR HEARING PROTECTORS?
E.A.R.s electronic earplugs and filtered earplugs hearing protection products have the ability to enhance or filter speech while reducing loud sounds in very noisy places. Even in a quiet setting, a normal-hearing person wearing our hearing protection products should be able to understand a regular conversation.
Wearing hearing protection can slightly reduce the ability of those with damaged hearing or poor comprehension of language to understand normal conversation. However, it is essential that individuals with impaired hearing wear earplugs or muffs to prevent further inner ear damage in very noisy places.
E.A.R. also have a large select of hearing protection products that enable industrial workers the ability to hear the noises that signify an improperly functioning machine while filtering loud sounds in the work area. HearDefenders-DF™ and Chameleon Ears™ HearDefenders-DF® dual-filtered hearing protectors feature Variable Attenuation. As noise levels go up, noise suppression goes up, allowing speech and radio communications to be heard!
HOW CAN I TELL IF A NOISE IS DANGEROUS?
People differ in their sensitivity to noise. As a general rule, noise may damage your hearing if you are at arms length and have to shout to make yourself heard. If noise is hurting your ears, your ears may ring, or you may have difficulty hearing for several hours after exposure to the noise. Noise is characterized by intensity, measured in decibels; pitch, measured in hertz or kilohertz; and duration.
You can also purchase (on Sale for $10.00!) the E.A.R. Sound Checker™ which is designed to protect hearing by easily checking surrounding decibel levels. The E.A.R. Sound Checker™ is a personal Sound Level Meter which indicates if sound levels are safe or dangerous and helps the user determine whether hearing protection should be worn.
Just point the E.A.R. Sound Checker™ toward a sound source, press the button and three LED Lights indicate decibel levels in the surrounding area.