How to protect your hearing while enjoying outdoor activities
By Dr. Molly E. Bishop
The sun is shining and the bees are buzzing which means summer is in full swing. Summertime is filled with an endless amount of recreational activities such as concerts, sporting events, fireworks, motorcycles, and lawn mowing. All of these activities have one thing in common: NOISE. Although we encourage you to participate in every summer event (Who can resist hearing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” live at the first concert at Camden Yards?), we encourage and recommend the use of hearing protection. Here is our quick guide to preventing noise-induced hearing loss.
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss is damage to structures in the inner ear caused by exposure to loud sounds. Damage caused by loud noise exposure is usually gradual over time, so you may not notice changes in your hearing at first. Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, and it can affect one or both ears. Loud noise exposure can also cause tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears or head.
What can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)?
Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by exposure to quick “impulse” sounds or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over a period of time. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for damage to occur. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing damage. To better understand sounds that can be harmful to your hearing, here are the average decibel ratings of popular summer sounds: Power tools: 100 dBA Motorcycles and dirt bikes: 80-110 dBA Sporting events and concerts: 110 dBA Fireworks show: 140-160 dBA 12-gauge shotgun: 160 dBA
How can I protect my hearing?
The good news is noise-induced hearing loss is preventable! Here are several solutions available to protect your ears from harmful noise: 1. Disposable earplugs: These earplugs can be purchased at any drug, grocery, hardware, or sporting goods store. They come in different shapes and sizes. With this type of hearing protection, you have to make sure you are inserting the earplug correctly for maximum benefit and noise reduction. If you are in loud noise on a more regular basis, we recommend reusable custom-molded earplugs. These are fit specifically to your ears by an audiologist. 2. Earmuffs: Earmuffs fit completely over the ears and form a seal. This type of hearing protection is ideal for lawn mowing, woodworking, using power tools, leaf blowing, and hunting. Keep in mind, you can pair earmuffs with disposable earplugs for added hearing protection. 3. Concert plugs: Concert plugs are a specific type of hearing protection designed for avid concert goers and musicians. For fine-tuned listeners, concert plugs include a tiny filter in them designed to bring overall volume down to a safe level. By evenly reducing the frequencies to safe volumes, concert plugs are able to deliver amazing sound quality. You can even still carry on conversations with these custom-molded plugs! When you have determined that a sound is potentially harmful to your hearing, the first thing to do is consult your audiologist. Your audiologist will determine which type of hearing protection is right for you. A baseline hearing test is also recommended to document if dangerous noise levels have already started to impact the auditory system.