One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal speech. While aging is the most common cause of hearing loss, exposure to excessive noise also can damage hearing in higher pitches.
“Once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired,” said Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.. “Hearing loss due to excessive noise is totally preventable, unlike hearing loss due to old age or a medical condition.”
Here are the registered levels for common sounds, courtesy of the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery:
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 or above 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
“It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you,” said 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.”
Three Hearing Protection Tips
Bhayani offers the following hearing protection tips to help protect your hearing this summer and beyond:
Cover your 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.” 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,” Bhayani said. “Multicolor customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections.” After swimming, 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,” 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.