Four steps to combat the silent epidemic of hearing loss.
AN estimated 275 million people across the globe can’t hear clearly all the sounds they love. These people suffer from hearing loss, which the World Health Organisation lists as the number one sensory disability in the world.
Some people could never hear, as they were born deaf, but the majority had something happen along the way that made them deaf. Infectious diseases like meningitis, measles, mumps and chronic ear infections, as well as head and ear injuries, and ageing all can contribute to hearing loss.
But perhaps the most common cause is excessive noise. Whether it’s a one-time exposure to an intense, “impulse” sound, like gunfire, or by repeated exposure to loud sounds over time, like machinery at work, noise has the potential to rob people of their hearing.
The effects of hearing loss extend well beyond having to turn up the television. It strains a person’s ability to understand conversations, which can cause problems and misunderstandings at work and at home. Hearing loss also leads to isolation from family, friends and the environment.
“The good news is noise-induced hearing loss is preventable,” says Dr Laurie Wells, audiologist in 3M’s hearing protection business. “So many people could be spared from it, if they just took a few easy steps.”
Step 1: Wear hearing protection
The most important step to preventing hearing loss is to wear hearing protection.
“There are many great hearing protection options, but sometimes it’s a challenge to know which to choose and how and when to wear it correctly,” says Dr Wells. “Hearing protection is now available that is comfortable, fits well, and includes options to enhance communication – like microphones and two-way radio connections for people who need them.”
The backyard fireworks displays that are so commonplace during the CNY celebrations pose a significant health hazard to the hearing health of the people in the immediate vicinity, ie family members, neighbours. Prolonged exposure to such hazardous noise can cause irreversible hearing damage.
Fireworks have been recorded to exceed 120 dB at distances of up to 150m. Of greater concern would be firecrackers set off during CNY celebrations. At a distance of ½ a metre, firecrackers have been recorded at levels greater than 170 dB.
Considering the health risk, it is still alright for people to enjoy their local fireworks display, provided the necessary precautions are taken, ie disposable earplugs. For noises of up to 100 dB, prolonged exposure for more than 15 minutes is enough to cause lasting damage.
The ringing effect or muffled sensation after a fireworks or firecracker display can be counteracted by resting and avoiding loud noises for at least 24 hours. However, if symptoms persist, it is recommended you undergo a medical examination by an otolaryngologist followed by a hearing assessment by an audiologist.
During the festive period, it is common to see lion dancers in shopping malls, offices or in private residences. Loud music from the drums and cymbals accompany the lion dancers as they go through their routine. Constant exposure to the cymbals and drums may lead to spectators experiencing a faint ringing sensation in their ears, otherwise known as tinnitus.
In some severe cases of tinnitus, people may even experience brain aneurysms or brain tumours, also known as an acoustic tumour. As is the case with firework displays, it would be advisable for spectators to take the necessary precautions by wearing disposable ear plugs during the lion dance.
Step 2: Be mindful around the clock
Sounds louder than 85 dB are more common than people might think. Prolonged exposure to these high-level sounds can permanently damage your hearing, and cause ringing in the ears, along with other symptoms.
Most people don’t carry decibel meters, so it’s good to know where those sound levels can occur. Some examples include:
- Attending a football game (100 to 120 dB)
- Using a leaf blower or chainsaw (95-120 dB)
- Riding a motorcycle (80-110 dB)
- Using a lawn mower (82-103 dB)
- Attending a rock concert (90-120 dB)
- Listening to a personal music player (75-114 dB)
- Watching a movie at the theatre (72-104 dB)
Hearing these sounds occasionally, for a limited time, isn’t a major threat to hearing. But repeated exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing damage over time.
Many people – like mine workers, police officers, construction workers, farmers and others, work in noise levels that are 85 dB or higher every day on the job. As a result, noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases and the second most self-reported occupational illness, according to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
According to research done by the US National Institutes of Health, karaoke sessions can have an adverse effect on the hearing health of individuals. Strenuous singing and the amplification of the singer’s voice against the loud background music can lead to voice damage and noise-induced hearing loss.
Research has shown that after a two-hour karaoke session at sound levels exceeding 95 dB, test subjects showed up to 8 dB of hearing loss.
One way to reduce the effects of extended karaoke sessions would be by taking frequent breaks in between, leaving the room or area where the karaoke session is taking place and retreating to a peaceful quiet spot for a few minutes.
After a whole day spent celebrating a multitude of festivities, people may want to head out for a night of merriment in nightclubs or bars. To the average person, anything above 85 dB would be considered harmful for the ears. However, some clubs have recorded peak levels between 118 dB to 133 dB, equivalent to a jet engine taking off.
At such high levels, three to four minutes of exposure would be sufficient to cause long term damage to club-goers. Club-goers can reduce the damage done to their hearing by limiting their nightclub visits to not more than once a month, with each visit not exceeding more than four hours.
Step 3: Reduce the volume or increase distance
Work-related noise might be unavoidable, but many times, you can be in control of the noise around you.
Whenever possible, select quieter vacuums, chain saws, power tools, etc.
Also, be aware that the volume controls on portable entertainment devices can exceed 110 dB – levels that may be hazardous if you listen for many hours a day. Lower the volume and limit how long you listen to them.
If you aren’t able to turn down loud sounds you encounter, take a few steps back from the source of the loud sound. Even a few feet of distance between you and a loud sound can lower the decibel levels that hit you.
During the journey back to individual hometowns, people using iPods or other portable music players to keep themselves entertained may end up causing avoidable stress on their ears.
Though the effects may not be immediate, the long-term repercussions on the listener’s hearing may lead to problems such as distinguishing consonants and understanding speech.
Some measures that can be taken to reduce these effects include listening to music at 60% of the maximum volume for 60 minutes, then take a break. Giving the ears an opportunity to rest will reduce the likelihood of permanent damage.
Secondly, use headphones instead of earbuds. Earbuds are more likely to damage hearing instead of headphones and have been proven to be at least 9 dB louder.
Step 4: Take the hearing pledge
Make a commitment to wear hearing protection so you can continue to enjoy all the sounds you love. 3M has launched the Hearing Pledge. Go to www.hearingpledge.com and commit to wearing your hearing protection.
This article is courtesy of 3M.