Fewer things are more patriotic than attending a community fireworks display on the fourth of July. Unfortunately, the brilliant spectacle that delights our eyes also produces sounds in excess of 125 decibels – which is almost one-and-one-half times the accepted safety level of 85 dB.
Hearing health professionals estimate ten million Americans’ ears have suffered permanent damage from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL); another 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels on a daily basis. While aging is the primary cause of hearing loss in America, noise damage is also prevalent. Experts agree that 40 percent of hearing damage is preventable by simply protecting our ears from excessive noise.
Scientists believe loud noises produce intense vibrations that negatively affect the hair cells in our inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for converting sound energy into the electrical impulses that travel to our brain. Once these cells are damaged, they cannot be repaired.
How can you enjoy the festivity of the holiday without endangering your hearing? Here are a few safety tips.
1. Keep your distance. The closer you are to the source of the noise, the louder the sound – which is why attending a community fireworks celebration is much safer than trying to host your own. Most firework organizers take precautions by designating safe viewing areas for the general public.
How far away is safe enough? Your environment is too noisy if:
- You have to shout to be heard by someone standing next to you.
- Your ears ring immediately after hearing a loud noise.
- Your ears hurt after leaving a noisy area.
2. Don’t light firecrackers yourself. Experts agree it’s safer to attend community fireworks where professionals – often trained firefighters – are in charge of lighting the explosives.
According to a 2010 statistics, 8,600 individuals visited an emergency room for fireworks-related injuries. If the danger of burns and lacerations isn’t enough to sway you, consider this: firecrackers (140 dB) are noisier than race cars (130 dB) and almost as noisy as a shot gun blast (170 dB). All three exceed the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) regulation safety level of noise exposure in the workplace (85 dB). Employers with jobs producing more than 85 dB of sound daily are required to furnish approved hearing protection to their employees at no cost.
3. Wear earplugs. If you’ll be attending a community or home-based party where fireworks are the main attraction, take along ear protection. Earplugs are readily available, disposable and inexpensive. Most of them are made of foam, so they conform to each individual’s ear canal and still allow you to hear well enough to participate in conversation or listen to music. If you don’t like earplugs or are looking for an alternative form of protection for a young child, consider investing in a pair of sound-reducing ear muffs. Although these are more expensive, they are comfortable, reusable – and can even be festively decorated if the spirit moves you.