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Protect your hearing — before it’s too late

Posted on Oct. 26, 2018 ( comments)

Noise is all around us, forming a soundtrack to our lives. The car stereo drowning out the blare of traffic. The leaf blower you use to clean off the sidewalk. Screams and shouts as your kids run through the house. The notorious thunder of cheers at a Seahawks game.

But what about the long-term effects of the noises we take for granted? Could we be damaging our hearing without even knowing it?

Noise-induced hearing loss

Sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a short time. And the louder the sound, the more damage it can cause to your hearing, and the quicker the damage will occur.

“It may start as a temporary shift that returns to normal, such as hearing muffled sounds after a rock concert or ringing in your ears after hearing a loud bang,” says Joni Johnson, AuD, a board-certified audiologist who practices at MultiCare ENT, Allergy & Med Aesthetics in Gig Harbor.

These symptoms, while temporary, are a warning.

“If your exposure to loud noises continues — sometimes over a period of years — temporary muffled hearing can become permanent,” Dr. Johnson says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research shows that people who are exposed over long periods of time to noise levels at 85 decibels or higher are at a much greater risk for hearing loss, with the extent of the damage depending largely on three things:

  • Decibel level: How loud the sound is
  • Distance: How close you are to the source of the sound
  • Time: The length of time you are exposed to the sound

Who is at risk?

It is estimated that 48 million people in the United States have trouble hearing with one (or both) of their ears.

“Noise-induced hearing loss is common in my practice, and can happen to people at any age,” says Dr. Johnson. “Often a patient will come in saying his wife has been complaining that he’s not hearing her. I may learn the patient is a retired machinist who’s only begun noticing the hearing loss after 30 years of noise exposure. Unfortunately, the damage has been done.”

There is a growing trend of hearing loss among younger generations, too. The CDC states that 5 in 10 young people listen to their music or other audio too loudly, often through lightweight ear buds or head phones.

“A kid can easily clock in two hours of listening to music too loudly while taking the bus home, doing homework, or in their bedroom without noticing it because it’s enjoyable,” Dr. Johnson says. “Unfortunately, it begins to chip away at their hearing, causing damage they may not notice for another 10 years.”

Protect your hearing before it’s too late

The good news? Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Avoiding noisy environments or wearing ear protection is the best way to prevent hearing loss.

“I educate my patients about loud noise and recommend ways they can use loud equipment safely or enjoy things like sporting events or concerts without causing long-term damage,” Dr. Johnson says.

And if you notice symptoms such as a sudden onset of ringing noise in the ears (tinnitus) or plugged or muffled hearing, see an expert. MultiCare ENT, Allergy & Med Aesthetics offers audiologic evaluations by highly trained audiologists such as Dr. Johnson, followed by examination and treatment by an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Find an ENT clinic near you

How loud is too loud?

Noises at or above 85 decibels can put you at risk for hearing loss. But what does that mean?  Here is a list of some of the common noises and their decibel levels.

Hearing loss

About The Author

Holly Byrne
Holly is a senior marketing consultant with MultiCare and is dedicated to connecting patients with the health care services they need.  More stories by this author
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