We are exposed to sound on a daily basis. Volume levels vary considerably, and can easily exceed 85 decibels (dB) – the threshold that is considered safe. Any prolonged exposure to noise exceeding this is harmful and can cause permanent, irreversible hearing loss.
Excess noise exposure isn’t the only cause of hearing damage. Diseases, drugs and injury may all contribute to hearing loss. Fortunately, individuals can take steps for proper hearing protection help prevent hearing impairment.
Noise-induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss in the U.S. The good news? It is easily preventable. Steps can be taken to help prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.
It is essential for those exposed to loud noise to wear hearing protection. Earplugs are a must in noisy environments such as rock concerts and sporting events. They should also be worn when riding a motorcycle or snowmobile, mowing the lawn, using power tools, etc. Employees who are exposed to loud noise must be given hearing protection by their employer as mandated by OSHA requirements.
Additional steps include turning down the volume when listening to music or watching television, limiting the number of noisy appliances running at the same time, and buying quieter products (many appliances list dB ratings in their specifications).
Hearing Loss and Diseases
Some diseases can cause hearing loss. Viruses that might damage hearing include measles, mumps, whooping cough and rubella. Bacterial diseases such as meningitis and syphilis can also lead to hearing damage. Acoustic neuroma – tumors on the hearing nerve (usually benign) – may contribute to hearing loss. To minimize the risk of hearing loss from disease, children should be vaccinated. Immunizations offer protection from many childhood infections that can cause hearing damage. Sexually active individuals should use protection to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which can cause hearing loss.
Hearing Loss and Medication
Certain drugs cause damage to the sensory cells responsible for hearing. These include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, salicylate pain relievers (e.g., aspirin), quinine (for treating malaria) and diuretics. In order to reduce the odds of hearing loss from medications, is is recommended that individuals take medications only as directed and contact their doctor immediately if they experience symptoms of hearing loss such as tinnitus when taking new drugs.
Hearing Loss and Injury
Head trauma can damage the temporal bones in the lower lateral walls of the skull, leading to hearing loss. Wearing a seatbelt at all times when in a car, wearing a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle and participating in contact sports, and avoiding taking unnecessary risks, such as standing on the top rung of a ladder, will all help prevent this type of injury.
Other general steps people can take to protect their hearing include not inserting any foreign objects in the ears, including cotton swabs and safety pins; using swim plugs when engaging in water activities; drying the ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing and seeking prompt medical attention for ear infections.