What to Know About Hearing Loss
I live on one of the outlying Hawaiian islands. People here sing out for the ‘aina, the land. We have respect for the sacred environment. Then I walk along the road and a motorcycle drives by with a roar that removes me not only from paradise, but from space and time. A motorcycle can emit as many as 110 decibels of noise. Above 120 decibels, I could suffer permanent hearing loss. Once hearing is gone, it cannot be restored.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers hearing loss and prevention a critical health concern. Noise pollution can be devastating. In some people, it causes anxiety, hypertension and heart disease, damage to the hearing of the fetus during pregnancy, learning and language development in children, and isolation and depression. Treatment for hearing loss costs tens of billions of dollars yearly.
The CDC explains how loud noise causes damage. When I walk along the road and the motorcycle’s loud noise enters my ear, the hair cells in my inner ear bend like blades of grass. These cells relay electric signals along the auditory nerve to the brain. The damage done to my hair cells would normally stop after the motorcycle moves on. The hair cells stand up again. If I have repeated exposure to the motorcycle’s roar, or other loud noises, or the noise is excessive, the hair cells do not reinvigorate. They die. Once the cells, membranes, or nerves are permanently damaged, they cannot be brought back. At this point in time, there is no natural or medical cure for hearing loss, merely aids.
If my hearing is permanently damaged by excessive noise, I might not be able to hear my wife talk to me in a crowded restaurant. If the hearing loss continues, due to repeated exposure, I would eventually not to be able to hear her talk to me in the quiet of our living room.
If I was genetically or individually sensitive to noise, had a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension, had suffered an ear injury, or taken certain medications, I could be at-risk for noise-induced hearing loss.
The CDC provides 10 signs of hearing loss.
*Speech and other sounds seem muffled.
*Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds (e.g., birds, doorbells, telephones, and alarm clocks)
*Difficulty understanding conversations when you are in a place with background noise, such as a restaurant
*Difficulty understanding speech over the phone
*Trouble distinguishing speech consonants, such as s and f, p and t, or sh and th)
*Asking others to speak slowly and clearly
*Asking others to speak loudly or repeat what they said
*Turning up the volume of the television or radio
*Ringing in the ears
*Hypersensitivity to certain sounds
The best way to avoid hearing loss is to prevent it. The CDC estimates that about 70% of people exposed to loud noise never or seldom wear hearing protection. Use earplugs, protective earmuffs, or noise-cancelling headphones. Avoid noisy places (or noisy machines) if you can. Modulate the volume on earbuds or headphones.
Regular exams are important for early detection of hearing loss. A doctor can refer to an audiologist, a hearing specialist, when there is a history of exposure to loud noise, a change in hearing, or reports of diminished hearing from family members or friends. Children can be tested before they enter school or when there is concern about hearing.
As I walk along the road through the Hawaiian ‘aina, wearing my tank top, swim suit and flip-flops, I don’t carry earplugs or protective ear muffs. When the loud motorcycle blasts by, I stick my fingers in my ear. We do what we can to protect our hearing.