We live in a noisy society with loud cars, jackhammers, emergency vehicles, rock concerts and MP3 players. We can’t avoid much of it, and we certainly love the music. But all this exposure to noise is a big threat to your hearing.
Millions of people have lost hearing due to all this noise. For some, the result has been a condition called tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Major stars like Barbara Streisand and Neil Young report hearing loss from hundreds of loud concerts. For actors like William Shatner, it was one single loud noise that caused a serious hearing problem.
Hunting or shooting targets can damage your hearing – even with just one shot. People are developing hearing loss at earlier and earlier ages, mostly due to MP3 players.
When hearing is lost or damaged, there’s nothing that will restore it. Hearing aids help, but they can be expensive and have limitations. Besides, who wants to wear a hearing aid when they’re still young – or young at heart?
How Does Noise Hurt Our Hearing?
Noise directly damages the delicate structures in your inner ear, which releases a surge of oxidant chemicals. These chemicals destroy the hair cells of the inner ear – cells that transmit noise. The damage leads to either gradual or sudden loss of hearing.
When you lose your hearing, there’s even more at risk. Research shows that hearing problems can disturb sleep and cause anxiety, depression and stress. People with hearing problems and tinnitus tend to have high blood pressure and elevated heart rates. In fact, research shows they have higher levels of the stress hormone called cortisol, which leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone loss and early death.
Older People at High Risk
The risk of hearing loss increases as we age because the structures in our ears become increasingly vulnerable to loud noises. Furthermore, if we’re drinking alcohol while listening to loud music, this reduces the natural protective mechanisms – resulting in damaged hearing.
Young People at High Risk
Listening to music through an MP3 player or smart phone with ear buds or headphones is putting kids at high risk of hearing loss, and 90% of adolescents use them to listen to music. Nearly one-third of these individuals listen at 90 dB for over an hour every day, and 60% listen at 85 dB, which is enough to cause hearing loss. Despite this, hearing tests at schools rarely check for high-frequency hearing loss.
Protect Your Hearing
As with every health issue, prevention is best. A few tips to protect your hearing:
Earplugs: The best hearing protection is the simple earplug, which blocks or dampens sound energy before it reaches the eardrum. These are low-cost and should always be with you.
Musician-grade earplugs: Musicians should wear a well-designed earplug that lets them hear high and low notes yet protects from destructive sound. If you love live music, invest in musician-grade earplugs – they cost less than $20 per pair.
KidesEarSaver: Monitor your children’s use of MP3 players and similar devices. Kid’sEarSaver is a device that claims to reduce the sound output of listening devices — reducing sound by more than 15 decibels. However, capping the volume focuses on the sound level, not the dose. Kids can’t listen all day.
Protection at work: Industrial workers typically use “earmuff” hearing protection. In some fields, there are advanced technologies like active noise reduction or noise cancellation devices that blunt the noise. Always wear ear protection on a loud job site.
Also, research suggests that antioxidant supplements with magnesium and n-acetylcysteine may help prevent or reverse hearing loss and tinnitus.
It makes sense to protect your hearing!