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'Summer's Here and the Time Is Right For Dancin In the Street'

~Martha and the Vandellas

You betcha summer's here. Cookouts, sunny days at the beach, sun block, surfs up come on, it's the most fun time of the entire year. What a bummer the end is near.

Unfortunately summer fun can have a negative impact on your hearing health according to the House Ear Institute (HEI). Not to put a damper on fun in the sun, but how about paying a little attention to your hearing health the rest of the summer, and no that does not mean to put sunscreen on your ear cups (though that's not a bad idea too).

No, were talking about damage to the inner ear that can lead to permanent hearing loss and, boys and girls, once hearing is impaired it cant be fixed.

Summer Noise

Most of us kicked off the month of July by celebrating America the Beautiful. With that celebration came exposure to firecrackers. No problem, right, because you and your family are so far away? Not true. Those beautiful fireworks come complete with explosive bursts of sound, each burst doing just a little more damage.

Whether were talking about a string of Black Cats or bottle rockets, each concussive bang adds up and has the potential to damage your hearing. We have fun watching them and hearing them, but did any of you find yourself covering your ears? Anyone have ringing the next day?

And what about lawn mowers. Weed whackers. Windows down, music pumping? These are what summer is all about right? Yet what we dont realize is how loud these sounds really are and the damage they may be doing over the course of the summer.

The facts speak for themselves:

  • 32.5 million Americans experience hearing loss and its not just the long-timers, either. Kids are losing their hearing thanks to bud ear overexposure to loud music through ear buds aimed directly at the ear drum. You know that can't be good.
  • 2.5 million Americans have lost hearing in just the past few years. To be expected with all those baby boomers coming of hearing aid age.
  • 30% of all hearing loss is preventable.

Exposure to noise damages the microscopic hair cells found in the inner ear, which play a critical role in our ability to hear, said Dr. Jose Fayad, House Ear Clinic associate. The damage can be from a brief but intense noise, but is most often caused by regular exposure to excessive sound over the course of several years.

So maybe you recover from the blasts caused by the rockets red glare, but its not helping you long-term and it is long-term exposure to excessive noise that causes the problem. Noise-induced hearing loss may be gradual, painless and unnoticed for many years. It is always permanent.

How Long Is Too Long?

Sound volume is measured in decibels (dB) and when for the purposes of measuring environmental noise, an A-weighted filter is typically used as it best represents human hearing. Normal adult conversation produces sound in the range of 60 to 70dBA. No problem, here. Talk all you want.

A lawn mower kicks out 90dBA or more. You have to shout to be heard at this noise level, which should be a sign it is too loud. A typical rock concert generates anywhere from 110 to 150 dBA. Ringing anyone?

And, if your idea of fun is standing at the end of the take-off runway with jets flying 20 feet over you, well congratulations. Your ears endure up to 140dBs. At least for now.

However, the amount of dBs isnt the whole problem. Its half the problem in most cases. The ears can recover from loud noise if given a rest period in-between cuts. No, the other half of damage to the ear is the length of time the inner workings of the ear are exposed to the loud noise. Once in a while, okay. Every day? For multiple hours? Not okay.

House Ear Institute Hearing Health Tips

So with summer upon us and iPods tucked into every bikini, heres what the HEI recommends for all-year-round, sound hearing health. All things in moderation and give yourself and your ears a break.

  1. Monitor your exposure to loud noise. Some dB stats: you can listen safely at 85dB for up to eight hours. However, when you crank it up to 100dBs, you start to experience hearing damage in just 15 minutes. Look, if were talking damage after eight hours or 15 minutes, damage is damage so turn the dial to the left and take 15-minute quiet breaks.

    You might discover that quiet is nice, too. Very nice, though its no Motorhead.
  2. Stay out of noisy environments. If you have to shout to be heard, its too loud. That includes loud music, operating power tools, mowing the lawn and even driving with the windows down, elbow out the window. Yep, you look cool, but if your passenger has to shout, your hearing is anything but cool. Roll up the window, turn down the 8-track
  3. When you cant escape loud environments, wear ear protection. If you spend three hours every weekend mowing youre exposed to at least 90dBs of sound for three hours! Every weekend.

    Wear earplugs, earmuffs or ear cuffs. Look for a product with a noise reduction rating (NRR) of at least 9dBs. Better quality products can have an NRR of 22dBs. The more you can reduce the noise, the better your hearing today and into the future.
  4. If you rock, be prepared to roll. If you and the gang hook up every Friday for a gig at the local watering hole, dont stand directly in front of the speakers. Roll to one side or the other so that gigantic wall of sound isnt hitting you straight on. Same with audience members. Move back and to one side. And if its a long set, complete with a 10-minute drum solo, ear plugs are a good idea. (And youll be able to actually hear the vocals with earplugs in!)
  5. If you notice or suspect hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test.
    If you are experiencing ringing in your ears that does not go away or you feel some sounds are not as clear as they once were, seek help. Make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional to have your hearing evaluated.

So strap that surfboard to the woody, camp out in the great outdoors or stay home with the AC on. Regardless of how you spend the rest of your summer months, remember your ears.

Loudness + length of listening time = hearing loss.


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