Summer sounds include much more than crickets chirping. Outdoor concerts, parades, 4th of July fireworks, public transportation and construction sites all have one thing in common.
High decibels of noise.
"Once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired," said Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System. She particularly sounds off on headphone usage. "Hearing aids have yet to become status symbols so young people need to wise up and turn the volume down on their earbuds."
One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects their 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 hearing loss due to old age or a medical condition," Dr. Bhayani says.
Here are the registered levels for common sounds*:
30 decibels - soft whisper
50 decibels - rain
60 decibels - normal conversation/computer typing
70 decibels - expressway traffic
85 decibels - earplugs recommended for prolonged exposure at this level
90 decibels - subway, lawnmower, shop tools
100 decibels - chainsaw, snowmobile, drill
110 decibels - power saw
115 decibels - loud rock concert, sandblasting, car horn
130 decibels - race car
150 decibels - fireworks/jet engine takeoff
170 decibels - shotgun
*American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Music to my Ears, or Just Plain 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 earplugs, which simply attenuate the intensity/loudness without altering frequency response."
Loud Noise Permanently Kills Ear Nerve Endings
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," Dr. Bhayani explained. "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 may save your ears from being assaulted by the noise of your teenagers' music or electronic game, but it 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.
Helpful Hearing Hints
Here are a few summertime tips from Dr. Bhayani:
• Cover your ears: "Generic, over-the-counter earplugs are inexpensive and can be found at any drugstore," Dr. Bhayani said. "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.
• Swimmer's ear and cotton swabs: "Swimmer's ear is caused by painful membrane swelling due to trapped moisture in the outer ear," Dr. Bhayani said. "Multicolor customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections." After swimming, 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 farther 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," Dr. Bhayani said. 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. This may have to be repeated several times during the plane's descent.
Loyola University Health System