Hearing Loss & How To Avoid It

Hearing Loss & How To Avoid It

Noise! It’s all around us as we go about our daily lives. The background hubbub is so constant that we take it for granted. At home there’s the mower, the coffee machine, the squealing kids, the food processor, the stereo, the television. Out and about there’s traffic, heavy machinery, café buzz, aircraft, sirens, music events. This assault has the potential to damage our hearing without us realising it. Noise-induced hearing loss accumulates over time – the higher the levels of sound and the longer the exposure, the more likely you are to damage this precious sense. By being mindful about your noise exposure and taking some simple precautions you can limit the possibility of hearing loss.

Your ears are amazing, delicate instruments! The inner ear contains the cochlea, which is filled with fluid and lined with about 15,000 sensory hair cells. A normal healthy ear can hear a range of frequencies from 20 – 20,000 hertz. Different hair cells pick up different frequencies, so if some hair cells are damaged it can affect your ability to hear either some, or an entire range, of frequencies.

The best guide to how loud is too loud is your personal individualised perception of sound. If it feels like it’s too loud, then it is! It’s definitely too loud if:

  • You have to shout to be heard by someone less than a metre away
  • Are listening to music through headphones and can’t hear traffic sounds or people talking nearby

Any sound louder than 80 decibels can be potentially damaging. The table below reveals some surprises about easily you can be exposed to excessive noise

While some level of age-related hearing loss is probably inevitable, there are thing you can do to look after this very important sense.

  • Always wear noise protection for noisy jobs like lawn mowing and chain-sawing
  • Wear ear plugs if going into a noisy environment, such as a work site, a night club or to a rock concert
  • If you work in a noisy environment then adhere to your workplace health & safety guidelines and procedures. If you feel that the workplace protections are not adequate then talk to your workplace health & safety officer about ways to make your workplace quieter.
  • Listen to your music device at a moderate volume, especially if the headphone plugs go into your ear. Resist the temptation to increase the volume to compensate for background noise!
  • Give you ears a rest by removing your headphones at regular intervals to allow some recovery time
  • Protect your ears in the water if you do swim training or water sports by wearing appropriate ear plugs
  • Where possible, avoid sudden, very intense sounds such as gun shots as these can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss
  • If you experience ear pain or notice the symptoms of an ear infection, see your GP as soon as possible because untreated infections can result in hearing loss
  • Never try and remove ear wax with cotton buds, which generally just pushes the wax further in and carries the added risk of damaging the ear canal or ear drum. Ear wax is a natural protector of the ear. If excessive build -up of wax is a problem which you feel is affecting your hearing, discuss this with your doctor or practice nurse

Some common features of permanent (sensorineural) hearing loss include

  • Sounds or conversation seeming muffled or distorted
  • Trouble hearing and understanding conversation (especially when there is background noise)
  • Routinely turning the TV or stereo to a higher volume than you used to.

The good news is that modern hearing aids can generally help to recapture your hearing and consequently greatly improve your quality of life by allowing you to interact effectively in social situations. Talk to your GP about a referral to an audiologist for some specialised care and advice.