The sounds of summer can be noisy. "Fireworks, trains, concerts and road construction can be harmful to your hearing. And once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired," said Jyoti Bhayani, certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.
One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects his or her ability to understand normal speech. Aging is the most common cause of this condition. However, exposure to excessive noise also can damage hearing in higher pitches. "Hearing loss due to excessive noise is totally preventable, unlike old age or a medical condition," said Dr. Bhayani.
Common Noise Levels
Here are the registered levels for common sounds:
Decibel Level (db)Sound
30 soft whisper
60 normal conversation/computer typing
70 expressway traffic
85 earplugs recommended for prolonged exposure
90 subway/"el" train, lawnmower, shop tools
100 chainsaw, snowmobile, drill
110 power saw
115 loud rock concert, sandblasting, car horn
150 fireworks/jet engine take off
Music to my Ears Or Noise?
"It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you," said Dr. Bhayani, who regularly cares for construction and factory workers, frequent air travelers and seniors in her practice at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. "I recommend using hearing protection devices for those who are exposed to excessive, loud noises and musician's ear plugs, which simply attenuate the intensity/loudness without altering frequency response." People can be individually sensitive to levels of sound, but experts recommend using hearing protection when exposed to sounds louder than 85 decibels for an extended time.
"Many think it is cool to rock out to loud music, especially with your headphones on - but is it cool to wear a hearing aid?"
Loud Noise Kills Ear Nerve Endings Permanently
Three small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound vibrations to the inner ear where they become nerve impulses that the brain interprets as sound. "When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the hair cells and nerve endings in the inner ear," explained Dr. Bhayani. "The louder a noise, the longer the exposure, and the closer you are to the noise source, the more damaging it is to your nerve endings, or your hearing." As the number of nerve endings decreases due to damage, so does your hearing. Nerve endings cannot be healed or regenerated and the damage is permanent.
Ear Bud Warning
Use of ear bud headphones by youngsters may save your ears from being assaulted by the noise of your teenagers' music or electronic game, but they may be damaging your child's hearing.
"Three in five Americans, especially youth, are prone to develop hearing loss due to loud music being delivered via ear buds," said Dr. Bhayani. Sound that is too loud, especially close to the ear, is harmful. "The truth about hearing is loud and painful - once a nerve is damaged, it cannot be restored. It is gone forever."
"Ears" to a Safe Summer: Survival Tips
Dr. Bhayani says now is a great time to become more aware of hearing, "We are enjoying the start of a noisy summer." In her practice at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, Dr. Bhayani regularly sees patients as young as newborns and as old as 100. In addition to being a doctor of audiology, she is a member of the American Academy of Audiology and has a clinical competence certificate issued by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Here are a few summertime tips from Dr. Bhayani:
Cover your ears: Local fireworks, holiday parades, taking the "el to ballgames or the lake, lawnmowers and outdoor concerts are fixtures of summer. "Generic, over-the-counter earplugs are inexpensive and can be found at any drugstore," said Dr. Bhayani. "However, they can be custom-made for comfort and durability. Buy earplugs now and keep them handy in wallets, backpacks, briefcases and purses so you can pop them in when noise is loud and continuous." Dr. Bhayani also suggests using a scarf or even covering your ears with your hands to muffle sound.
No swabs: Many enjoy frequenting the local park district pools or area beaches. "Swimmer's Ear is caused by painful membrane swelling due to trapped moisture in the outer ear," explained Dr. Bhayani. "Multicolor customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections." After water sessions, Dr. Bhayani recommends tilting the head to drain water from each ear, and gently wiping the outer ear with a towel. Do not use cotton-tipped swabs to clean ears. "Swabs can actually push wax or harmful material further into ears, and many people use them improperly or too forcefully which can cause pain or damage."
The plane truth: Many air travelers complain about ear discomfort when the plane is taking off or landing. "Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum and sucking on hard candy also are effective in unplugging the ears," said Dr. Bhayani. If yawning and swallowing are not effective, pinch the nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air, and direct the air into the back of the nose as if trying to blow the nose gently. The ears have been successfully unblocked when a pop is heard. This may have to be repeated several times during the plane's descent.
Loyola University Health System