Protect Your Hearing This Summer

June 27, 2012
Summer is the time for cookouts, road trips, swimming pools, Fourth of July fireworks, concerts and more. Unfortunately, summertime also presents an invisible hazard – noise that could lead to hearing damage.

"Fireworks, trains, concerts and road construction can be harmful to your hearing. And once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired," said Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, fireworks register at sound levels comparable to a jet engine – about 150 decibels. A loud rock concert may be about 115 decibels. Earplugs are recommended for prolonged exposure over 85 decibels. Exposure to noise can damage hearing in higher pitches and impact your ability to understand normal speech. Unlike age-related hearing loss, hearing loss due to noise is preventable.

Bhayani, who regularly cares for construction and factory workers, frequent air travelers and seniors in her practice, offers the following summertime tips to help protect your hearing this summer:

Plug those ears. "Generic, over-the-counter earplugs are inexpensive and can be found at any drugstore," 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." She also suggests using a scarf or even covering your ears with your hands to muffle sound.

Prevent swimmer's ear. "Swimmer's ear is caused by painful membrane swelling due to trapped moisture in the outer ear," Bhayani said. "Multicolor customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections." After swimming, tilt your 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 – they can push wax or harmful material farther into ears.

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," 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.

"It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you," said Bhayani. "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."

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