Noise exposure is a leading cause of hearing loss. It usually develops gradually and may go unnoticed until it has progressed to a point where treatment options are limited. There are steps you can take now to prevent hearing loss down the road.
Some types of hearing loss are unavoidable. That which occurs with aging (presbycusis) can’t be halted, but regular hearing tests can detect problems early, before they worsen. Noise-induced hearing loss, on the other hand, is usually preventable.
Exposure to excessive noise damages the hair cells of the inner ear, causing permanent hearing loss. Usually this occurs over time, but the noise from a sudden lout gunshot may be enough to cause immediate, irreversible hearing damage. More often, repeated exposure to noise in occupational and recreational settings leads to gradual hearing loss. Sources include machinery, power tools, music concerts, sporting events, firearms, fireworks, motorcycles, boats, and snowmobiles.
Symptoms of hearing loss include the sensation of speech that appears muffled or distorted, the frequent need to ask others to repeat themselves, listening to the TV or radio at a higher volume level than others find comfortable, tinnitus (a ringing in the ears) and a feeling of fullness in the ears.
Protecting your ears is the key to hearing loss prevention. If your job exposes you to hazardous noises, make sure proper safety equipment is provided, and that it meets state and federal regulations. Hearing protection – earplugs and earmuffs – is essential when working around loud equipment. It’s always a good idea to bring along earplugs if you’re participating in a noisy recreational activity (e.g., a football game or rock concert), as well.
At home, limit your exposure to noisy activities, and keep the volume down – on the television, stereo and especially when it comes to personal listening devices like MP3 players. Prevent other types of hearing loss by refraining from inserting cotton swabs or other objects into your ears, blowing your nose gently through both nostrils and quitting smoking. Studies show those who use tobacco are more likely to suffer from hearing loss.
Regardless of your age, have your hearing tested regularly. Early detection is key. While noise-related hearing loss can’t be reversed, you can still take steps to avoid further damage to your hearing.