For the average teenager, young adult, and even middle-aged adult, certain sounds are so commonplace, one might never question whether they are damaging. Mowing the lawn, for example, seems a perfectly innocuous chore — you might be at greater risk of losing a foot than damaging your hearing. Likewise for anyone who uses a chainsaw, motorcycle, snowmobile, or power tool — those objects all have obvious dangers that have more to do with operating the machine than just the sound it puts out. You pass by construction when you’re driving or when you’re walking; you’ve been to plenty of rock concerts and have emerged unscathed. You’ve had your share of fireworks-laden Fourth of July celebrations.
But to overlook the inherent danger of the noise level in each of those aforementioned situations would be a grave mistake. When loud sounds (85 decibels or louder) forcefully enter the ear, the delicate structures of the inner ear may be damaged or destroyed completely, resulting in permanent and severe hearing loss.
Virtually everyone is at risk for hearing loss, even at the hands of these commonplace activities such as mowing a lawn or attending a rock concert. Experts estimate that 12 percent of children may have a permanent, noise-induced hearing loss that could have been prevented entirely; this, combined with the 17 percent of adults with noise-induced hearing loss, means that many Americans suffer from a condition that could have been prevented and now negatively affects their quality of life.
In a recent study by the House Research Institute, 72 percent of the teenagers in the audience reported reduced hearing after attending a three-hour rock concert. Despite the fact that this type of hearing loss usually disappears within 48 hours, it means that a large quantity of teens and young adults have experienced it — and plenty of them will subject their ears, without protection, to high and intrusive volumes repeatedly.
Associated Audiologists president Tim Steele, Ph.D., FAAA, wishes concertgoers would be more considerate of their ears. “Teens and young adults often don’t realize the potential damage exposure to loud noise either from a concert or hunting could cause to their hearing long term,” Dr. Steele says. “Exposure to noise over 85 decibels repeatedly can cause the tiny hair cells in the ear to stop functioning and may result in permanent hearing loss.”
Even the professionals onstage wear ear protection, which is why anyone attending a concert — even (some might say especially) teens and young adults with normal hearing — shouldn’t overlook the advantages of ear plugs.
Sophisticated hearing protection is plentiful in today’s modern market. Rather than generic foam ear plugs, custom-molded hearing protective devices — which are different from hearing aids — are advised for industrial workers. This technology can double the amount of hearing protection provided. Specialized monitors for musicians will enable them to monitor their own sound while simultaneously muffling intrusive volume from stage monitors and speakers. And for the average user who wants to be proactive about protecting his or her hearing, a wide variety of protective hearing devices is available. Taking precautions early is the wisest path: It’s all fun and games until someone discovers, perhaps years down the road, that they’ve permanently damaged their hearing.
Are you or someone you know experiencing noise-induced hearing loss? Request an appointment with one of our doctoral-level audiologists today to find out how we can help!