Save Your Hearing – Chicago Audiology office
Although some cases of hearing loss are not preventable, there are also a huge number of patients who could have avoided their hearing loss if they knew more about the damaging effects of excessive noise exposure. Many of the patients at our Chicago audiology office could have saved their hearing, if only they knew how to do so. We believe that it’s crucial to provide people with the information that could allow them to save their hearing. Unfortunately, we don’t see this discussed very much, which is truly a shame because so many people lose their hearing unnecessarily.
How do loud sounds damage your hearing?
To understand how sounds can cause damage, it’s useful to understand the basics of how hearing works. Sound travels through the ear canal, where it vibrates the eardrum. The sound vibrations then pass through a series of tiny bones in the middle ear, and are then transmitted to the cochlea (KOKE-lee-ah). This small spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear is filled with hair cells, which have long thin processes (the “hairs,” though they aren’t actually made of hair) immersed in fluid. These cells convert the vibrations of the sound waves into nerve impulses, which are then transmitted to the brain.
When a sound is too loud, it transmits so much energy to the hair cells that it can damage their structure. This causes the hairs to collapse, which means that they can no longer convert the sound waves into nerve impulses. If damage continues, the hair cells die, and they are not replaced. When this happens to enough hair cells, hearing loss occurs.
How loud is too loud?
Both the amplitude of the sound (how loud it is) and the duration (how long you hear it for) are important in determining how much damage will be done to your hearing. The louder the sound, the shorter the time it takes to harm your ears. A sound at 85 decibels (dB) can cause damage to your hearing if sustained for long periods of time. This is about the level of noise on a crowded city street. Louder sounds produce damage in shorter periods of time.
A good general rule of thumb is that if a sound is too loud for you to have a comfortable conversation in its presence, it’s loud enough to cause hearing damage. For example, if you have to speak loudly in the car to be heard over the radio, you should turn the radio down. If it’s tough to have a conversation in a bar, move to a quieter spot. If you can’t escape the sound (for example, you work in that environment), consider wearing hearing protection.
If you can’t talk to others at all because it’s very loud, it’s definitely recommended that you wear earplugs or custom hearing protection to protect yourself. Examples of situations where this might be the case include concerts, mowing the lawn, and riding a motorcycle. You can buy earplugs at any drugstore, although custom hearing protection (available at our Chicago audiology office) is preferable if you’re going to use it regularly.
As more and more people spend a significant amount of time listening to their devices, we’re seeing more and more hearing damage at our Chicago audiology office, and at younger ages. When you’re listening to music or a podcast while walking down a noisy street, it’s easy to turn up the volume to the point where your hearing is at risk. Standard earbuds do a very poor job of blocking out ambient noise, so people end up cranking up the volume to be able to hear.
Custom earmolds can help to solve this problem. They’re fitted to your ear canal, so they can block out more of the ambient noise. This allows you to listen to your device at a lower volume, so you don’t put your hearing at risk. If you’re a parent of a teen or a college student, you should strongly consider investing in a pair of custom earbuds for your son or daughter. Most teens and young adults don’t really think about the damage they’re doing to their hearing until it’s too late. Just telling them to turn down the volume will likely accomplish nothing, but giving them custom earbuds could save their hearing.
There are many forms of hearing protection available, some of which are customized to your ears for the best protection for your hearing. Dr. Dawn can help you decide which type would be best for you and your work-related or recreational activities. Some of the options available here at our Chicago audiology office include custom earmolds, custom headphones, and in-ear monitors for musicians.