Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Avoiding Hearing Loss
There is no way around it—the best way to treat any condition is to avoid getting it in the first place.
Most people can still remember their parents scolding them for sitting too close to the television as a child, warning that it would ruin their eyesight for good. While there is a hint of truth to this, it turns out staring into bright light isn’t nearly as damaging to our eyes as once thought. The same can’t be said for our ears—vision problems are easily corrected with lenses or optical surgery, but the process of restoring hearing is much longer, and a return to normal hearing is not guaranteed. For this reason, those with noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) often regret not heeding their parents’ repeated pleas to “Turn that noise down!”
Attending rock concerts and listening to cranked-up music through earbuds aren’t the only sources of NIHL. Read on to see how you can protect yourself from dangerously high-decibel sounds everywhere.
Protecting your child
Unfortunately, we don’t often have much control over developing hearing loss. A serious illness, an accident, or the aging process can all cause or contribute to the condition regardless of how careful we are to take preventative measures. However, unlike other sources of hearing loss, NIHL can be prevented if you recognize the risks and take reasonable precautions.
Hearing loss that occurs in utero or infancy may be difficult to prevent, but not impossible. Here are a few suggestions that can combat congenital hearing loss:
- Ensure that your vaccinations are up to date in advance of getting pregnant and avoid exposure to infectious diseases while pregnant.
- Avoid all alcohol, tobacco, and drugs and medications not specifically approved by your OB/GYN.
- Feed babies partially or completely sitting up to avoid ear infections from milk leaking into ears via the Eustachian tube.
- Exercise regularly to prevent toxemia and follow your doctor’s dietary recommendations to keep your baby’s birth weight stable.
- Avoid extreme noise, especially after about 20 weeks once the fetus has developed hearing organs.
Protecting your hearing at work and play
If you have ringing in your ears or find it difficult to hear a coworker talking at a reasonable distance, your workplace may be doing more harm to your ears than you think.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has mandated that employers provide ear protection in workplaces that regularly expose workers to decibel (dB) levels of 85 or more. They also offer the following tips to help protect your hearing from potentially dangerous occupational noise exposure:
- Adhere to the time/exposure limits set by your employer, which is a factor of how long you can safely be exposed to 85 dB or more during an eight-hour shift.
- Use earplugs or other safety gear on the job. Work environments are required by law to provide this equipment to those working in excessively noisy environments.
- Take advantage of any hearing conservation programs offered by your job, such as free annual hearing exams and training.
Similar advice applies to recreational activities that expose you to excessive noise. For example, wear protective earmuffs when you go to the gun range, or bring a pair of earplugs to your next rock concert. While many people complain that disposable foam earplugs tend to drown out the richer frequencies of live music, a pair of high-fidelity earplugs is a one-time investment that could save you from a lifetime of hearing damage. If you’re at a noisy bar or nightclub, it also doesn’t hurt to take a break from the dance floor and step outside for some air—and some quiet.
Tips for personal music listening
Sometimes you just want to escape into your favorite song without having to hear the chatter and noise of the world around you. With MP3 players and smartphones, it’s easier than ever to turn down the volume on everything else but your music—a luxury that can lead to hearing loss if abused.
The ability to blast music through earbuds or headphones wherever we go has been a regular part of our lives ever since MP3 players hit the scene, particularly among teenagers. Despite the massive popularity of portable music, not everyone knows how to listen responsibly. Think about how many times you have heard music seeping from someone else’s earbuds on the train or bus. Could you make out the words to the song? If so, then it was far too loud for safety.
Now ask yourself honestly—how high do you crank the volume of your music?
The good news is you don’t have to give up your favorite music to protect your hearing. Simply follow a few commonsense tips and you can have your music—and your hearing, too:
- Dial your phone or other device’s volume down to no more than 70 percent of its maximum. To protect your children’s ears, you can utilize password-protected settings on most devices to keep them from raising the volume above that level.
- Reduce the amount of time you listen to your device at a stretch. A 2006 study indicated that an average person could listen to their player for 4.6 hours per day at 70 percent volume without risking their hearing.
- Consider wearing over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds. Noise cancelling headphones are a particularly good choice, in that they screen out ambient noise, thus reducing your need to raise the volume of your music to override outside sounds.
Get your hearing tested now
When it comes to NIHL, you can protect the hearing you have or prevent further damage. Seek advice from a hearing care professional today.