Healthy Hearing readers reveal unexpected hearing hazards
Many of us know noisy environments are detrimental to our hearing health. Hearing protection is standard issue on noisy job sites. Gun hobbyists wear hearing protection at the gun range, race car enthusiasts wear noise-canceling headphones and musicians wear custom earmolds.
But what about unexpected sources of noise - things that may not immediately come to mind as hearing dangers? Healthy Hearing surveyed 169 Americans about how noisy their lives are, and the results come as no surprise to us - we live in a noisy world! Many hazardous noises come not just from our occupations, but from things we do for fun.
A full 35 percent of our survey respondents said they can't let summer pass without going to a least one parade where the fun, candy catching and community pride come with dangerously loud sirens and ear-splitting marching band standards. Even going to a dog park or volunteering in an animal shelter can harm your hearing.
How loud is too loud?
Sound is measured in decibels (dB). According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), levels below 75 dB are generally safe, while sounds measuring more than 85 dB can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), a permanent condition affecting as many as 40 million adult Americans. The louder the sound, the less time it takes to cause permanent hearing damage. For reference, normal conversation registers 60 dB.
Unexpected hearing hazards
Things that move us
Just about any mode of transportation you use to get you to work or play is noisy. Because today’s car interiors are quieter than ever, noise from freeway traffic (70 dB), heavy traffic (85 dB), motorcycles (100 dB) and emergency vehicle sirens (115 dB) may not be so damaging when you travel with the windows up. Those who drive for a living, however, such as taxi cab and bus drivers, may be susceptible to NIHL. Others who spend their workdays on busy streets, such as street vendors or traffic cops, may also be at risk.
Here’s a surprising fact: depending on the breed, a dog’s bark can reach 80-90 dB. And while most dogs don’t bark eight hours a day -- or in close enough proximity to cause permanent damage to hearing -- those who work or volunteer in dog kennels, like groomers and caretakers, could be at risk for developing NIHL. Inside a kennel, the noise level can reach 115 dB, not to mention the additional noise that dryers and clippers produce (100 dB).
Hidden dangers in the home
If you have a partner who snores, and nearly half of our survey respondents do, you could be at risk for developing hearing loss. Loud snoring can reach levels of 90 dB. A study published in the June 2003 issue of the Journal of Otolaryngology found a relationship between snoring and noise-induced hearing loss in bed partners of chronic snorers. Snoring could signal an underlying medical condition, so if you share a bed with a snorer, encourage them to seek medical attention.
Out and about
The acoustics in today’s bars and restaurants can make dinner out with friends an extremely noisy affair. According to Restaurant Engine, a typical restaurant noise level is 80 dB, but some have been measured at 110 dB - the same level as a jackhammer. While most patrons are only subjected to the noise for short periods of time, the real hazard is for the wait staff who may work shifts of eight or more hours at a time.
Community events, such as parades, can produce potentially dangerous noise levels, too. Emergency vehicle sirens (115 dB), car horns (110 dB), gunfire (140 dB) and firework explosions (150 dB) are all noisy enough to cause permanent hearing loss or deafness.
Are you at risk from the noise you encounter from the dentist’s drill (80 dB) or hairstylist’s blow dryer (90 dB)? Probably not, since you’re only exposed to this noise for a short time. Those who work in dental offices or hair salons, on the other hand, should be vigilant. Although the equipment they use runs intermittently, it’s important they monitor their hearing closely and take steps to protect it.
How to protect your hearing
So what’s the bottom line? Your best defense against developing NIHL is knowing when an environment is too noisy so you can take precautionary measures.
Our survey revealed that protecting hearing is not top-of-mind for people who engage in noisy activities. Only about 15 percent of people we asked said they "always" wear hearing protection during noisy pastimes. Further, 41 percent of survey participants said the noise is all part of the fun. Think about the roar of the engines at the start of a car race, the loud "purr" of your shiny Harley-Davidson and the sounds during the exciting finish of your town's 4th of July fireworks show.
For 41 percent of our survey respondents, loud noise is all part of the excitement.
There's no need to give up the work, hobbies or recreation you enjoy, but when you consider the the future by protecting your hearing, you'll be glad you did. Remember: ond day, you might regret not doing all you can to stave off hearing loss, but you'll never regret wearing earplugs. Good hearing preserves your quality of life and relationships with family, friends and colleagues. Try these tips for maintaining your hearing health:
- If possible, leave the environment. If you’re at an outdoor concert or fireworks celebration, move as far away from the source of the speakers or explosions as you can.
- Have inexpensive foam ear plugs, available from the local drug store, handy for when you find yourself in an unexpectedly noisy environment. Carry them in your purse or car console for situations in which you are unable to leave or move away from the sound.
- If you work or play in a hazardous noise environment like the ones we’ve mentioned in this article, invest in a good pair of noise canceling earphones. Talk to your employer about ways to minimize the sound levels.
- See a hearing healthcare professional immediately if you notice you’re not hearing well or if you experience any pain or discomfort.
Most importantly, commit to having an annual hearing evaluation. Even if your hearing is normal, an annual exam gives your hearing healthcare professional a good look at how well your auditory system is working from year to year. To find a hearing healthcare professional in your community, ask your family physician for a referral or search Healthy Hearing’s Find a Professional directory.