Hi Doc; how can I protect my hearing from loud noises?
Welcome back to Dr Euan's TGIF blogpost!
Today we are looking into a common question we are asked, especially these days where we are often surrounded by loud sounds, music, and noises, be it at home, or out in public:
How can I protect my ears from loud noises?
Q: What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Nose Indued Hearing Loss (NIHL) is hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud sounds / noise.
It is a dose cumulative effect and gets worse with increased exposure.
Q: How do loud noises cause hearing damage?
Loud noises cause over-stimulation of the delicate inner ear cells and nerve endings, damaging them. This damage can be permanent and irreversible.
Q: What are some effects of Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
NIHL usually affects the ability to hear higher frequencies first, and can result in a constant high pitched ringing sound in your ears. This is known as tinnitus. You can read about tinnitus in Dr Euan's tinnitus blog post.
Other possible effects include:
1. Poor speech discrimination (making out words from hearing)
2. Poor speech in noise performance
5. Feelings of social isolation from not being able to understand what others are saying
Well, the Key TAKE HOME message is:
If You Need to Shout…then the Sound is Too Loud
Even without a device to measure sound, you can typically tell if the noise around you is too loud. If you or others need to shout in order to be heard, or cannot understand each other even at arm’s length away, the sound is too loud and may damage your hearing over time.
If you would like to know more about hearing loss, you can read Dr Euan's common symptoms of hearing loss blog post.
Q: How can I protect my hearing?
5 Ways to Protect Your Hearing:
Turn the volume down.
Walk away from the loud noise.
Take breaks from the noise.
Avoid loud, noisy activities and places.
Use hearing protection.
At home, here are some ways to protect your hearing:
Turn down the volume of the TV, radio, or music.
If listening to loud music, take listening breaks to reduce your exposure.
Use quieter products (power tools, toys, recreational vehicles) whenever they are available. (For more, visit CDC’s Buy Quiet webpage.)
Reduce equipment noise by replacing worn, loose, or unbalanced machine parts. Keep equipment well lubricated and maintained.
Use hearing protection devices (such as earplugs and earmuffs) when you cannot avoid loud sounds.
Make hearing protection convenient. Stash earplugs in your car or workshop for easy access.
Keep children away from loud music or equipment at home.
How about when you are outside your home?
At Public Events:
Move or stay far away from the loudest sound-producing source—such as loudspeakers or cannons at college stadiums—especially if attending with children.
Limit the length of time of exposure to loud sounds.
Pay attention to signs and information flyers warning of possible loud noise and the use of hearing protection.
Bring hearing protection devices with you. Keep them in your car, pockets, or other easy to access places.
Listening to sounds up close. such as through earphones, may also affect your hearing. If you are interested, you can read Dr Euan's blog post on if earphones can hurt your ears.
Using Hearing Protection
The best way to protect your hearing from noise is to avoid noisy activities. When you can’t avoid loud noise, use hearing protection. Hearing protection devices reduce the level of sound entering your ear. They do not block out sound completely. Hearing protection that does not fit properly will not protect your hearing.
You may want to consider wearing noise reducing headphones when playing loud music such as drumming to protect your hearing
Look for Noise Reduction Ratings
Hearing protection devices come with different noise reduction ratings. The noise reduction rating is usually labelled on the device container (it may say “NRR”) and it indicates the amount of potential protection the device provides.
More about Noise Reduction
Noise reduction ratings are measured in decibels (dB). Most hearing protection devices have ratings that range from 0 dB to 35 dB. A noise reduction rating is a “best case” rating measured in a laboratory; the actual sound reduction provided by the protector may be much less. It is best to choose a hearing protector that is comfortable and convenient, and that you are willing to wear consistently when exposed to noise. If you want to know exactly how much noise reduction you are getting, you can have the device “fit-tested” by a hearing professional.
Choosing the Right Hearing Protection
The choice of hearing protection device depends on your personal preferences of comfort and where you will wear it. How well the protection works depends on whether you wear it consistently and correctly. The most common types of hearing protection devices include earplugs, earmuffs, and specially made devices.
Ear plugs can help to reduce hearing damage when in loud noise environments
These devices provide an air-tight seal in the ear canal. They are generally cheap, effective, and easy to use. They can be any of the following types:
Pre-molded (pliable devices of fixed proportions)
Formable (usually made of expandable foam)
Custom-molded (to fit precisely the size and shape of an individual’s ear canal)
Canal caps (earplugs on a flexible plastic or metal band) (During quiet times, when not needed, you can leave the canal caps hanging around your neck so they will be easy to find when needed.)
Using earmuffs while operating loud or heavy machinery can be considered mandatory in some construction settings
Earmuffs come in many models designed to fit most people. They block out noise by completely covering the outer ear. Some earmuffs also include electronic parts to help users communicate or to block sound impulses or background noise. However, earmuffs might not work as well for people with heavy beards, sideburns, or glasses (which can create gaps between the earmuff cushion and your skull).
Note: Wearing both earmuffs and earplugs can reduce the sound further. However, the noise reduction ratings for the two do not add together.
Specially Made Devices
You can also get specially made hearing protection devices. They can be styled and sized specifically for a person’s individual ear. They can also have special features:
Custom earplugs moulded to fit your ear exactly.
Earmuffs with built-in radios or communication devices that allow you to listen at a safe level while still protecting you from the loud noise outside (such as at sporting events).
“Level-dependent” hearing protectors (such as earmuffs) that do not block sound when the environment is quiet, but block loud sounds. These can be very useful for hunters.
Lightweight active noise cancellation headphones for reducing low-frequency noise (for example, in aeroplane cabins). Noise cancelling devices work best for low-pitched droning sounds, such as from car and aeroplane engines and air conditioners. (These devices do not have a noise reduction rating.)
Uniform-attenuation earplugs for musicians and concert attendees. These devices act just like turning down the volume on a stereo (in other words, the sound intensity is decreased).
If you believe you may be suffering from hearing loss and are not sure what to do next, you can read our blog post on when you should consider getting a hearing aid written by Audiologist Shermin Lim.
If you would like to see an ENT specialist for possible Noise Induced Hearing Loss, please feel free to contact us at Euan's ENT Surgery & Clinic to book an appointment.
That's all for this week's blog post. See you all next time!
Thanks for reading
If you are interested in finding out more, do look up these links:
For a list of available hearing protection devices by type and feature, visit NIOSH’s Hearing Protector Device Compendium.
For more information on fit testing, visit NIOSH’s Science Blog—HPD Well-Fit™: The Future is Fit-Testing.
To learn more about how to properly wear hearing protection devices, visit NIOSH’s website—Choose the Hearing Protection That’s Right for You.
For more about noise in the workplace, visit NIOSH’s website—Noise and Hearing Loss.
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