Am I at risk for hearing loss?
Q: Am I at risk for hearing loss? What can I do to lower my risk?
A: Everyone is at risk for hearing loss. Hearing loss can be caused by many factors; genetics, birth defects, diseases, medication effects, physical trauma, and noise exposure trauma. Some of these factors you really cannot change, plan for, or prevent. For example no one plans to contract a virus that attacks their auditory nerve or plans to develop cancer requiring chemotherapy or radiation. Nor do they plan to be in a car accident and suffer skull fractures. Likewise we cannot change the genes that were passed down to us by our ancestors or undo an anatomical birth defect. These things happen whether we like it or not. However there is one factor everyone can definitely do something about- noise! You can (and should) use hearing protection whenever you are near loud or unnecessary noise.
Examples of loud or unnecessary noise include (but are by no means limited to): engine noise, such as from lawn mowers, ATVs, snowmobiles, cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters, or motorcycles; power tools, such as saws, drills, or sanders; home appliances, such as vacuums, hair dryers, blenders, or food processors; heavy machinery, such as in factories or on construction sites; alarms and sirens, such as on trucks, vans, trains, police cars, ambulances, or fire trucks; not to mention firearms and munitions explosions. Even human generated noise can be loud enough to cause hearing loss; a baby crying can be louder than a jet engine!
With so many sources of noise it can seem as though we must be being bombarded by noise all day long, and we are. Our modern world with all its technologic advances has become incredibly noisy and our brains have just accepted these sounds as an unavoidable part of life. Just because noise is unavoidable doesn’t mean we have to subject our ears to the full volume of these sounds. Everyone in the family can use hearing protection.
The main types of hearing protection are “on-ear” and “in-ear” varieties. The “on-ear” style or “earmuff style” is available in the lawn care, sporting goods, or firearms section of your local store. They are a great option for people of all ages, and an especially good option for children and infants who are most in need of hearing protection as sounds are even stronger (read: more dangerous) to them due to their smaller ear canal size.
The “in-ear” styles are disposable plastic or silicone plugs, foam plugs, and custom plugs. The first two options can be purchased in the same places the “earmuff” styles can be as well as in the travel section. Custom hearing protection can be purchased from your local friendly audiologist. Custom ear plugs are a great option for people who need to use hearing protection for a long period of time, use it nearly every day, or who need to be able to remove and reinsert hearing protection multiple times a day.
No matter what style hearing protection you use, use it properly, frequently, and proudly; knowing that you are doing everything you can to help the future you hear better!
Emily Steffel, AuD