Like so many other doctors, most people only visit us at our Atlanta ENT center if there is something noticeably wrong. While waiting until you have an ear infection or severe allergies to visit an ENT specialist is reasonable, there are many things you can do to increase the health and longevity of your otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) systems even when you are not feeling sick.
Namely, more people should protect their hearing from excessive levels of noise. We often take for granted the sound levels of the environment we are in. Thanks to humans’ natural quick abilities to adapt, we may not even notice noise levels after several minutes of exposure. For people who work in high-noise environments or attend high-noise events like rock concerts regularly, hearing protection may slip their mind after the third or fourth occurrence.
Just because you do not notice the noise does not mean that it is not harmful. Everyone should be aware of the importance of hearing protection not only for the longevity of their senses, but also to preserve a high quality of life. Ignoring hearing protection can have drastic consequences down the road, the least of which is asking people to repeat themselves.
What Are Safe Noise Levels?
Prolonged or repeated exposure to high noise levels can gradually cause damage to your inner ear’s hearing mechanisms. Inside your inner ear is an organ called a cochlea that houses thousands of microscopic hair cells. These hairs are all attached to individual nerve pathways.
We experience sounds as a result of changes in air pressure that make their way to the cochlea, moving the cells and sending auditory signals to the brain. You can feel this effect with your very own hands by placing them over a subwoofer or bass-heavy piece of stereo equipment and noticing the air pushing out.
Scientists have found that loud noises can wear out the inner ear’s hair cells over time. This condition becomes accelerated as we age. To prevent this type of noise-related hearing loss, they recommend you avoid or use ear protection in excessively loud environments.
So what is “excessively loud”? 85 dB over the course of eight hours or noise levels over 100 dB for just fifteen minutes. Taking a quiet break from these exposures can lessen the blow of cochlear damage, but not reverse it outright. For better assurance, people must consistently use adequate ear protection like ear plugs or over-the-ear coverings.
Here is a sample of typical noise levels one might encounter in everyday situations as provided by New Leaf Hearing Clinic:
- 80 dB — Alarm clocks
- 90 dB — Hair dryers, lawnmowers
- 100 dB — An mp3 player at full volume
- 110 dB — Live music, sporting events
- 130 dB — Ambulances
- 140 dB — Gun shots, custom car stereos at full volume
Without a noise meter, you can predict the level of sound by taking the “shout test.” If you have to shout to be heard at around arm’s length away from someone, the noise likely exceeds 85 dB.
Consequences of Hearing Loss
Extensive research has been done to discover the consequences of hearing loss. In addition to decreased sensory abilities, people may notice a reduction in other quality of life measures. These can include:
- Tinnitus — The name for persistent ringing in your ears. This condition can lead to pain, discomfort and even nausea at severe levels.
- Loss of balance as you age — Older adults with hearing loss are three times more likely to have a dangerous fall.
- Social isolation and depression — 30 percent of people with untreated hearing loss reported higher levels of depression, lack of motivation and a general unhappiness
Protecting your hearing can prevent these conditions from happening, even as you grow older. Keep your body healthy and your mind happy. Ensure that you wear hearing protection every time you go to a major public event like a concert, and use protection every day if you work in a noisy environment like a warehouse or busy restaurant.
To get your hearing levels examined or to find out more about preventing hearing loss, please visit our hearing resource page.