Our days are filled with loud sounds, from the buzzing of a lawn mower to the roar of the crowd at a favorite sporting event. We get so accustomed to hearing noises like a hair dryer or car horn, that we may not realize the potential risk to your hearing.
Better Hearing and Speech month is dedicated to helping raise awareness of the causes and potential treatments of communication disorders. This May, get tuned in to the sounds that may have a lasting effect.
Continuous, loud noises can damage tiny sensory cells inside the ears. The cells then lose their ability to quickly transmit vibrations via our auditory nerve to the brain, resulting in hearing damage and loss.
Protecting your hearing starts by monitoring the level of noises you hear and the amount of time you’re exposed to them, said Dr. Lisa Tseng, CEO of hi HealthInnovations, an Optum business.
“If a sound is too loud and you’re hearing it for too long, it can impact your hearing. In a conversation, we’re talking at 60 decibels. But let’s say I’m at a concert and the music is at 110 decibels. That could hurt my hearing because prolonged exposure to sound above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss. The louder the sound, the faster it can damage your hearing.”
One prevalent source of noise-induced hearing loss is listening to music or digital content through headphones or earbuds. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half of young people turn the volume up too high for too long. However, this 2017 study indicates those statistics may be slowing down a bit for teens.
Dr. Tseng offered a rule of thumb: Turn the volume on your phone or electronic device to 60 percent and listen for no longer than 60 minutes at a time.
In the United States, about 15 percent of adults are living with compromised hearing in one or both ears. This sensory loss can potentially lead to physical or mental health issues.
“Untreated hearing loss is linked to serious health conditions including higher risk of falling due to poor balance,” Dr. Tseng said. “Individuals with untreated hearing loss are twice as likely to have depression, and their risk for developing dementia increases five-fold.”
Hearing loss can negatively affect children too, being linked to behavioral and academic difficulties.
What else can be done to safeguard our hearing? Dr. Tseng shared some more suggestions:
- Wear hearing protection whenever you think you may be exposed to loud noises.
- Eat nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables because antioxidants help nourish ear cells and protect them against the free radicals that loud noises generate.
- Get your hearing tested, which may be covered by your health insurance plan.
For those who end up experience hearing loss, Dr. Tseng said 90 percent of them can benefit tremendously from hearing aids, which have become much more advanced in the digital age.
“Treating hearing loss early is really important because our brain is like a muscle,” she said. “If we don’t hear and exercise the brain cells used to understand speech, over time we lose that ability.”