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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.1 billion young adults are at risk of hearing loss globally. Increased use of personal audio devices and exposure to dangerous levels of noise in entertainment venues significantly increases the risk of damage to hearing health. To raise awareness about hearing loss, one of the most common medical conditions people experience, WHO launched Make Listening Safe. This campaign not only emphasizes understanding hearing loss, but also provides strategies to make listening safe and protect hearing health.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
One time or consistent exposure to loud noise is a major cause of hearing loss. Sound is measured in decibels and noise above 85dB can damage hearing health. We can easily be exposed to this volume (and higher) which is the equivalent of busy city traffic:
- 0dB: near total silence
- 30dB: whispering
- 50dB: normal conversation
- 80dB: hair dryer, vacuum cleaner
- 100dB: hand drill, motorcycle
- 120dB: airplane taking off
Hazardous levels of sound (above 85dB) are commonly experienced:
- in the workplace
- using earbuds and/or headphones
- entertainment venues (concerts, sports arenas)
Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear which work to convert soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals then travel through auditory pathways to the brain where they are processed and assigned meaning to, this is how we are able to understand what we hear. Hair cells can lose sensitivity and/or die and unlike other types of cells, they do not regenerate. This means that the damage is permanent which prevents them from translating soundwaves, making it difficult for the brain to process incoming sound.
Impact of Hearing Loss
Noise induced hearing loss produces a range of symptoms that can disrupt daily life:
- Tinnitus (a buzzing or ringing noise in one or both ears)
- Sounds are muffled or slurred
- Difficulty hearing and identifying individual words
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak loudly, and/or slowly
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise, needing to move to quieter settings to hear more clearly
These symptoms can be experienced mildly to severely, affecting one’s ability to easily manage personal and professional responsibilities by:
- Straining Communication: symptoms make it difficult to engage conversations. Clearly hearing and following what is being said is challenging which can increase miscommunication, cause people to miss important information, and distract from communicating effectively. People with untreated hearing loss often employ various strategies in trying to hear (reading mouths, pretending to hear, asking to repeat) and this can be exhausting and unpleasant.
- Leading to Social Withdrawal: conversations can feel like too much work causing people to avoid it altogether. Avoiding social gatherings and events which means spending less time with family and friends. This impacts relationships and social life.
- Impacting Overall Health: strained communication and social withdrawal affects mental health; contributing to anxiety, stress, loneliness etc. Untreated hearing loss also increases risk of depression in addition to other medical conditions like cognitive decline.
Fortunately, noise induced hearing loss and its multifaceted effects is preventable! It is important to be proactive about hearing health which can significantly reduce your risk.
Tips to Make Listening Safe
By practicing safety measures, you can protect your hearing health. A few useful tips you can integrate into daily life include:
- Low Volume Settings: earbuds and headphones can reach up to 100dB so it is critical to maintain low volume while using electronic devices. To be aware of the decibels, you can download an app that measures the sound you are exposed to!
- Noise Cancellation Headphones: noise cancellation technology is designed to reduce background noise. This prevents people from increasing the volume while in noisier settings. This feature allows you to listen to your device safely in all environments.
- Take Listening Breaks: your ears and brain need time to rest and recover. Your auditory system is constantly absorbing and processing noise so taking a break is important. Be sure to power off your devices and sources of noise (television, speaker etc.) and enjoy quieter activities.
- Reduce Exposure: you can reduce your exposure to loud noise (and its impact) by avoiding loud environments, taking alternate routes, and wearing protective gear (earplugs, earmuffs).
If you have noticed changes in your hearing, it is important to take a hearing test! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.