Have you been going buggy over the mating call of this years crop of cicadas? These love sick insects appear every 17 years one of natures wonders. However, the fact is this years bug fest can actually do damage to your hearing!
It sounds like some kind of joke but its true. This year there was a particularly large cicada swarm in the Chicago area and, in chorus, these creatures can generate sound in excess of 90 decibels about the loudness of a lawn mowerhour after hour after hour.
According to the Chicago Tribune, sound at this volume can cause physical and psychological strain in humans. No kidding. Its like having a bulldozer running outside your window eight hours a day. No wonder people are going buggy.
The Tribune, and many other media outlets, reported that cicada-generated noise can cause hearing loss, anxiety, aggravation and high blood pressure according to Billy Martin, a hearing specialist at Oregon Health and Science University.
Martin was quoted, saying Loud noise is very stressful, especially if the sound is annoying and loud. Its the double whammy and cicadasare both.
Cicadas appear mid-summer every 17 years and, based on weather conditions, can cause serious problems. If we experience a wet, cool period for a time, the first warm, sunny day will bring cicadas out to sing their song of love, and drive us all nuts.
Fortunately, these love bugs are most amorous mid-day when the temperature is high. At night, when we sleep, cicadas take a break from the action, too. This is why people who live and work in noisy environments may not even know the cicadas are back.
Its a Loud, Loud, Loud, Loud World
Maybe weve become immune to it. Maybe its just sonic wallpaper, there all the time but never noticed.
Walk down any street in a major city and youll hear noise lots of it. From cabs and cars, jackhammers, street vendors, buses and subways, people shouting to be heard. We live in a loud world. And over time, that background noise will lead to hearing impairment for many people.
The baby boomers were the first generation to experience loud sound on a regular basis. Thats why many people in their 40s and 50s are lining up for a hearing screenings and are getting fitted with hearing aids.
Blocking Out the Noise with More Noise?
So, were bombarded by noise on the streets, on the job, at home, in school loud sound is a way of life. An unhealthy way of life, but what alternatives do we have? Its the world in which we live.
But heres the kicker. For some people, the solution to the annoying, hectic sounds of the factory assembly line or traffic in Times Square is an MP3 player a device that drowns out annoying, ambient noise with louder, less annoying noise - our favorite tunes.
Does anyone see the problem with this solution to a loud world?
Sure, you control the sound but you have to play the music loud enough through standard earphones (versus to block out the noise around you which means youre actually picking up more decibels or dBs (the measurement of sound volume) listening to your iPod on the subway to work. It may block out the world around you but its damaging the delicate nerve fibers that turn sound waves into electrical impulses for shipment to the brain for processing.
Real Solutions to Cicada Ear and Other Loud Noises from the Outside World
Cicada ear isnt so much a problem (as problems go) as it is an example of the noise that surrounds many of us every day. You can go from the stillness of the back country to the noise on a huge interstate in 10 minutes. So, even country dwellers are dealing with more noise, at louder volumes, for longer periods of time.
So whats a person to do? First, be aware of noise levels in your surroundings. If your next door neighbor is running his lawnmower 10 feet from your ear drum, youre picking up a bunch of dBs just sitting there. When your environment is noisy, mitigate the problem as much as possible as quickly as possible.
Close the window when the neighbor mows the lawn. Problem solved.
You can purchase noise-cancellation headphones that do a great job of blocking loud noise but there are two things to consider. First, current sound canceling headsets are pricey (but prices should be coming down as they become more popular). Second, they make you lookumm, well, kind of geeky (although now there are some sleeker models available).Of course, that shouldnt stop you from using them if you can afford them.
Certainly wear ear protection in noisy workplace environments. If the employer doesnt provide hearing protection in loud environments, buy your own and call OSHA. An employer is supposed to provide a safe workplace and if ambient noise will cause hearing loss today, or 10 years from now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would like to hear about it.
Have your hearing tested regularly - annually. A hearing evaluation will indicate the amount of hearing loss an individual experiences each year simply because of the noise all around us. The first test establishes a baseline for comparison in subsequent years so make an appointment. Many insurers cover an annual hearing exam so check your policy.
Enjoy the Sound of Silence
Finally, if youre interested in protecting your hearing but you arent rolling in dough, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to control sound levels in your environment.
Buy an inexpensive set of ear plugs at the pharmacy and use them.
Listen to music and TV at an enjoyable, safe volume.
Limit your listening hours. Get unplugged for at least part of the day.
Remove yourself from noisy environments. Its not always possible, or even desirable, but when you can, move away from the source of loud noise.
Be prepared. If youre going to a fireworks display or a rock concert, you can expect intermittent and prolonged assaults on your hearing. You know this going beforehand. So wear ear plugs, enjoy the show and enjoy hearing health.
- Turn it off. The TV, the radio, the MP3 player, surround sound, stereo turn them all off. Weve become addicted to noise stimuli; silence can actually be uncomfortable for many people. But give it a try. Youll quickly see how stillness around you creates stillness within you.
Let the cicadas have their day. They wont be back for another 17 years and most of us have bigger concerns. However, increase your awareness of the noisy world in which you live, and take steps to protect your hearing today for tomorrows sake.