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Dr. Nelson asks: "How Loud is Too Loud?"

November 16, 2007 • Kimberly Nelson, AuD

21 A broken arm mends, a scraped knee heals, however one incident is all it takes to permanently damage your hearing.

Noise exposure is one of the most common etiologies or causes of sensorineural (sen so ri ‘neu ral) hearing loss. Excessive noise damages the hair cells in the inner ear resulting in permanent hearing loss and often tinnitus (‘tin ni tus) or ringing in the ears. Noise induced hearing loss is a function of three factors: exposure time, average noise level, and peak level of very loud sounds. Some of the latest statistics are clearly startling. 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise, with 30 million individuals exposed to dangerous noise levels each and every day. The effects of noise on hearing can be gradual and underestimated, but that is not always the case. A single shot from a shotgun, experienced at a close range, may permanently damage hearing in an instant.

Recently, one of my patients brought to my office an article from Pheasants Forever. Now, I must admit that I am not a regular subscriber to this publication; however this article did a fantastic job of highlighting the importance of hearing protection devices (HPD’s). With the recent arrival of fall-like weather and the upcoming hunting season, the timing could not be more perfect to “target” this topic, no pun intended.

Prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels (dB) can hurt your hearing. The noise generated from lawnmowers, tractors or power saws are in the 90-95 dB range. A one-time exposure to a single loud noise like a gun-shot can generate 120-150 dB and can certainly result in permanent sensorineural hearing loss.

There are several warning signs of the presence of excessive noise that can help all of us, young or old, to protect our hearing. If you can’t hear someone even three feet away, or have pain or tinnitus in your ears immediately following exposure to noise, there is a good chance you have been exposed to levels above 85 dB which can be putting you at risk.

An ounce of prevention can make the world of difference. Use Hearing Protection. If you know you are going to be around loud noise, wear hearing protection, such as foam or custom molded ear plugs. Cotton balls or tissues stuffed in your ears are not effective. The best hearing protection device is one that is worn correctly. Custom-made hearing protection inserts are manufactured to fit individual ears, providing repeatable performance, consistent protection and increased comfort for longer periods of time.

These products allow people to perform their work or enjoy their recreational activities without compromise while providing safe and comfortable protection from the noise of their environment.
For you hunters out there, a solid plug is typically not the plug of choice, given the need to hear others and your prey, Hunter’s ear plugs offer a solution for hunters who want to protect their hearing yet hear conversation and the rustling of nature around them. There are many different solutions available to help with your individual noise protection needs.

Do not wait until you notice a hearing loss or have ringing in your ears to start protecting yourself. If you suspect you have some noise related hearing loss, it is never too late to prevent further damage and preserve the hearing you do have. Schedule an appointment with an Audiologist to learn more about your hearing and appropriate ways to prevent hearing loss. Remember, once the inner ear is damaged from noise, it does not heal like a scraped knee.
Dr. Kimberly Nelson is a certified and licensed Audiologist practicing full-time at Advanced Audiology & Hearing Care at the Cowles Clinic. If you have any further questions about noise exposure or other topics relating to hearing healthcare, please call her office at 706-453-2119.