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Of all the forms of hearing loss, only one is 100% preventable. It also happens to be one of the most common.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a type of sensorineural hearing loss. This means it affects the hearing nerves which receive the sound which is carried to the brain. It is caused by either persistent exposure to loud noise or in a single blast of sound from a firearm or explosion.
To understand how to protect our hearing, we must first understand the process by which we hear. In order to perceive sound, we first receive it in the outer ear, it is then amplified by the eardrum as vibrations. These vibrations will continue to the inner ear, where ear cells convert these them into neural signals. These signals then go through neural networks to the auditory center of the brain to be perceived as sound.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when problems arise in the latter part of this process. Persistent exposure to loud sound causes damage to the tiny inner ear hair cells. These cells cannot grow back once they are damaged. They fail to pick up the sound around them, which mean the brain is left with fewer neural signals to process as sound, leading to a hearing loss.
As mentioned before, this kind of hearing loss is preventable with just a few easy lifestyle changes. Here are four ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Recognize hazardous noise levels
Think about the places you spend a lot of time in, and use a smartphone app to monitor the noise levels that occur in these places. Traffic sounds from the streets on the walk to the subway station. The subway ride itself. The combination of music and conversations at your favorite bar.
All noise at 85 decibels (dB) and above is potentially dangerous to human hearing. And the amount of time you can expose yourself to it gets exponentially shorter the louder it gets. For example, your subway ride is 85dB, and might start to cause damage around 8 hours of continuous exposure. That might not seem like much, but subway sounds have a habit of going up to 90dB, at which point the amount of accepted exposure will shrink to just 2 hours. To take another example, the average rock concert produces about 100dB of sound which can be enough to damage your hearing after just 15 minutes. If you are surrounded by sound, wear earplugs to help block harmful noise levels and protect your hearing. The right ones can reduce sound by up to 20dB.
Additionally, if you find yourself at a loud sports or music event, take short sound breaks often to give your ears some respite. It’s also a good idea to give your ears a long rest after you’ve been exposed a prolonged period of noise. This will help your ears recover more quickly.
Limit your time with headphones
An overuse of earphones at dangerous volumes might explain we have seen more younger people develop hearing loss in recent years. Experts recommend the 60/60 rule: Keep your listening to 60 min blocks at 60% of the volume. And be sure to take a sound break after every block of listening. It might also be worth investing in a pair of noise-reducing headphones. They will make it less like that you would want to turn the volume up to drown out the subway noise on your way to work.
Take care when cleaning your ears
Be careful when cleaning your ears or you might be causing hearing damage. Sticking a cotton swab into your ear can force wax deeper inside the ear canal and might even damage the eardrum. To clean the ear without the temptation to force wax further inside and risk hearing health. The ear has evolved to be self-cleaning, which means you should not have to clean them as vigorously as you might think. The best thing to do is to wipe around the outer wear with a damp cloth.
Get your hearing tested
A key step in protecting your hearing is getting it checked regularly. That way you will build a trail of data about your hearing that any future healthcare professional can use to give you the best treatment in the future. You will also learn about the best ways to preserve you hearing given your current lifestyle.
If you feel you might have hearing loss, the best thing to do is to get a hearing test as soon as possible. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better as it can be treated. Schedule a hearing test with South Shore Hearing Center today!