Those who encounter hazardous noise levels either on the job or during recreational activities are at risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss. This condition develops gradually, and often goes unnoticed until it has reached an advanced stage where treatment is less successful. Wearing hearing protection is the single most important preventive step you can take.
Recognizing the Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is gradual; you are likely to adjust to diminished comprehension before becoming aware of a problem. Many patients wait years before seeking a solution. Recognizing the signs of hearing loss early is key.
Common signs of hearing loss include:
- Speech sounds muffled or distorted
- You have difficulty understanding what others are saying, especially when there is competing background noise
- You frequently find yourself asking others to repeat themselves
- People complain you have the TV volume turned up too high
- You find yourself avoiding social activities because they can be tiring and stressful
- You experience tinnitus or vertigo
If you are experiencing these symptoms, make an appointment with an audiologist to have your hearing tested as soon as possible.
How to Protect Your Hearing
Continued exposure to hazardous noise levels (86 decibels or higher) damages the hair cells of the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Common leisure activities that may cause this include rock concerts, sporting events, power tools, fireworks, motorcycles and boats. Sometimes, all it takes is a single exposure to an excessively loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, for irreversible hearing loss to occur. Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is easily preventable.
Wearing proper ear protection is the best way to protect your hearing from excess noise. Earplugs can be purchased over-the-counter; better still are custom ear molds designed to fit the unique contours of your ears. Specialty earplugs are available for musicians, swimmers, hunters and others.
When listening to music, especially through headphones or ear buds, keep the volume turned down to a reasonable level. Other activities to avoid include inserting foreign objects such as cotton swabs into the ears, smoking and taking ototoxic medications.