Hearing loss can have many causes, some of which are preventable, and others, not so much. You’ve heard the saying, “Prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and this saying is especially applicable when it comes to protecting your hearing. Most hearing loss is irreversible: once your hearing is damaged, it usually cannot be restored.
An estimated 15% of Americans have noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. The sad part is, noise-induced hearing loss can often be prevented or mitigated by taking some precautionary measures.
Causes of Hearing Loss, & What You Can Do To Protect Your Hearing
Noise Exposure: How Loud, How Close, and How Long
While age is the most common cause of hearing loss, not far behind is exposure to excessively loud noise. Hazardous noise can occur on the job, while participating in leisure activities, and can be a part of everyday life in the city. Many people think that only noises loud enough to cause pain are capable of causing damage to the ears, but this is not true.
Hearing loss is one of the most common occupational illnesses in the United States. The risks of hearing loss are especially high for certain professions: factory, heavy industry, transportation, and construction workers; military, mining, farming, firefighters, police officers, musicians and others in the entertainment industry, to name a few.
Recreational sources of hazardous noise exposure can include firearms, firecrackers, power tools, dance clubs, rock concerts, racing events, motorcycles, snowmobiles, powerboats, boom cars, and personal listening devices (MP3s, IPods, etc.).
While hearing loss due to noise exposure can happen gradually, sudden extremely loud noise exposure, such as experienced during an explosion, or gun shot, can result in instant hearing loss. These types of occurrences are not always predictable, so prevention is not always possible, of course.
Protecting Your Ears from Noise
• If you are in a hazardous noise profession, make sure your employer provides you with ear protection appropriate to your job, has a program to test your hearing periodically, and is in compliance with federal, state, and city laws. Here is a link for OSHA guidelines regarding noise exposure in the workplace: https://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/new_noise/
• Use hearing protection, such as earplugs, earmuffs, or both, for noisy recreational activities as described above. Inexpensive disposable foam earplugs, available at drugstores in a variety of shapes and sizes, fit into the outer ear canal. Earmuffs fit over the entire outer ear, held in place by an adjustable band. Just as sunglasses help vision in very bright light without preventing seeing, ear protectors keep out the loudest sounds while permitting conversation, music tones, and other desired sounds to get through.
• Distance yourself from the source of loud noise. Closeness to the source, such as a speaker in a dance club, can exponentially increase the damage potential.
• Turn down the volume. While watching TV, if you have to shout to have conversation, the volume is too high. When using personal listening devices, if you cannot hear external sound, the volume is too high. Use the 60/60 rule with your personal listening device: 60% maximum volume for no longer than 60 minutes.
• Take extra care in confined spaces – in the car, in a small room, etc. The risks of hearing damage are especially high in small spaces.
• Rest your ears after excess noise exposure. A minimum of 16 hours is recommended to allow your ears to recover. Too little rest time can result in higher risk of permanent damage.
• Additional tips can be found here: https://www.earq.com/blog/9-ways-to-protect-your-ears
Head injuries that involve trauma to the temporal bones of the skull, which protect the middle and inner ear, can cause hearing damage, as can concussion. Sudden and dramatic changes in air pressure, such as while scuba diving, can also cause hearing damage.
Protecting Your Ears from Injury
• Wear a helmet while playing sports or bicycling.
• Wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a car.
• Try to avoid falls.
• Know and follow the safety rules while scuba diving.
Certain medications and chemicals can cause hearing damage, known as ototoxicity. Some of these medications include drugs for malaria (quinine and chloroquine), salicylates such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, certain classes of antibiotics, and some chemotherapy drugs. While some hearing loss from these medications is temporary, others can cause lasting damage.
Ear Protection from Ototoxic Medications:
• Discuss your concerns about medications with your doctor, and immediately report any unusual symptoms, such as ringing or buzzing in the ear.
• Take medications only as directed.
• If working with hazardous chemicals, talk to your employer’s health and safety officer to reduce your exposure.
Viral illnesses such as measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping cough, which are more commonly seen in children and unvaccinated adults, can cause hearing loss. Bacterial illnesses, such as meningitis and syphilis can be the cause of hearing loss as well. Ear infections are very common in young children – 5 out of 6 children experience ear infections by the time they reach 3 years of age, which, left untreated, can result in hearing loss.
Ear Protection from Disease:
• Keep vaccinations up to date.
• Watch for and seek immediate medical attention if your child shows signs of ear infection – pulling, rubbing, or poking fingers in the ear.
• See a doctor or hearing professional with signs of lasting tinnitus (constant ringing or buzzing in the ears).
• Protect yourself from STDs.
Other Tips for Ear Protection
• Don’t use cotton swabs or any other instrument in your ears – clean the outer ear only with a damp cloth, and dry thoroughly.
• Avoid swimming in dirty or untreated water.
• Manage stress levels.
• Get regular checkups.