We live in a noisy world. MP3 players, nightclubs and power tools produce noise levels that can cause permanent damage. Here’s how to protect your hearing.
Vacuums, leaf blowers, MP3 players engines, alarm clocks and garbage disposals all create harmful noises. We are constantly exposed to hazardous sound levels. And if you have ever heard roaring or ringing in your ears after an exposure to loud noise, then you may have had an episode of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Though it’s temporary, NIHL over time can lead to permanent hearing loss in the future.
Noise-induced hearing loss
NIHL can occur when you are exposed to dangerous noise levels. Because the loss is often gradual, you may not even be aware of it. NIHL can be caused by repeated exposure to various noise levels – like if you use power tools often. It can also be caused by one exposure to a loud sound – like an explosion.
NIHL happens when hair cells in your inner ear suffer permanent damage as a result of loud noise. When the number of hair cells decreases, your ability to hear also declines.
How to protect yourself
Following these tips can help prevent hearing loss:
- Limit exposure to loud noises.
- Wear hearing protection. Special protective earmuffs or ear plugs should be used when you know you’ll be exposed to loud noises.
- Keep the volume low. When using headphones or when listening to the radio or television, don’t turn up the volume too high.
- If you notice a change in your hearing, see an otolaryngologist or ENT (a doctor who specializes in the ears, nose, throat and neck). Your regular doctor can refer you to one.
- Get hearing checkups if you are exposed to loud noises regularly. If you work at a factory or an airport or hear loud noises often, you need to have your ears tested.
Also, don’t expose your children to high levels of noise.
How do I know if I need hearing protection?
If you are exposed to loud noises on a daily basis (for example, you’re a mechanic or you play in a band), then you need hearing protection. But even if you’re only exposed to loud noises from time to time, hearing protection devices can still help ward off hearing loss. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you exposed to noise that’s so loud that you have to raise your voice so that someone an arm’s length away can hear you? This happens when riding a motorcycle or using a lawnmower.
- After you leave a loud place, do your ears roar or ring for an hour or two? People often have this feeling after being at a concert or a noisy restaurant.
If you said “yes” to either of these questions, wear protective earmuffs or earplugs to protect your ears when you’re exposed to the loud noise. And see your doctor for a hearing checkup.
Devices to protect your hearing
Specially designed earplugs and earmuffs can help protect your hearing whenever you are exposed to dangerously high levels of noise. Earplugs are inserted into your outer ear canal and earmuffs fit over and cover your entire ear. Most hearing protection devices work equally well, so choosing one is a matter of comfort and personal preference:
- Expandable (formable) foam plugs are special earplugs that are made from a formable material. You shape them in your hands to fit your ear canal. Roll them into a tube shape, using enough material so that half the length of the foam plug sticks out of your ear. This will make it easier to remove.
- Pre-molded, reusable plugs are earplugs made out of silicone, plastic or rubber. They are pre-molded so you don’t have to shape them, and they’re made in different sizes. The plug should seal your ear canal without being uncomfortable. To insert, use one hand to pull up on the top of your ear, and use the other hand to insert the plug using a gentle back-and-forth motion. Some people like pre-molded plugs because they are affordable, reusable, washable and easy to carry.
- Canal caps are earplugs that are attached to a plastic or metal band that goes around your head. The earplugs can be formed or pre-molded. Some people like the convenience of canal caps because the band can be worn around your neck when it’s quiet, and easily put on when it’s noisy. Some people, though, find the band uncomfortable.
- Protective earmuffs fit over the entire ear. Some are discreet with smaller ear cuffs, while others are large and made with more material to block extreme noise. People who wear glasses or have beards or sideburns may find it hard for earmuffs to fit well. And others may find earmuffs too heavy or hot.
No matter which kind of device you choose, make sure it fits well to get the maximum hearing protection.