Hearing Loss:

Avoiding Hearing Loss

By Dr. Ben Kim

Do you know someone who is gradually losing his or her hearing?

It is estimated that 10 million Americans suffer with noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, noise is one of the most common occupational hazards today, with as many as 30 million Americans being exposed to harmful noise levels at work.

We register sound through little hairs that vibrate in our inner ears in response to different noises. When these hairs are exposed to a sudden burst of very loud noise, or to a steady stream of fairly loud noise, they can become damaged, resulting in hearing loss. Sound pressure is measured in decibels (dB). Here are some everyday sounds and their average decibel rankings:

Very faint, rustling leaves: 5
Whisper: 20
Rainfall: 50
Typical speech: 60
Washing machine: 75
Busy city traffic: 85
Hair dryer: 90
Leaf blower, rock concert, chainsaw: 110
Ambulance, jack hammer: 120
Jet plane from 100 feet: 130
Fireworks, gunshot: 140
12-gauge shotgun: 165

How loud is too loud? Steady exposure to noise that reaches 85 dB can produce hearing loss. A one-time exposure to very loud noises like a gunshot at 140 dB can also cause hearing loss. Listening to a discman or walkman at a standard volume level of 5 for 15 minutes a day is enough to cause permanent damage.

Since you probably don’t walk around with a meter that allows you to measure dB, a good rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice in order to be heard by a person who is a couple of feet away, the noise level is considered hazardous. Another practical measure is to carefully observe for ringing in your ears or if sounds feel flat or dull after leaving a noisy environment. If either of these conditions are present, you were probably exposed to a hazardous level of noise.

If you are exposed to potentially harmful noises at work or home, I recommend that you strongly consider using expandable or pre-molded earplugs. You can find them at almost any pharmacy. An alternative is to use earmuffs, although they might not provide the same protection as earplugs that sit snug in your external ear canal.

If you have children who like to listen to music on their walkmans or in their cars, please share this newsletter with them. They need to be aware of the increased risk of hearing loss that they face later in their lives because of their choices today.

For more information about noise-induced hearing loss and what you can do to prevent it, please visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/

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