Listen up to protect your hearing

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Listen up to protect your hearing

Take a moment to listen to the sounds surrounding you.  Depending on where you’re at, you could be hearing anything from car horns honking, people having conversations, a dog barking, the ticking of a clock, or a soothing musical melody.  Now imagine being completely deaf with no sound whatsoever.  The loss of never hearing a symphony, the roar of a crowd at a sports event or a baby’s laughter, would be missed.  The sound of silence may be hard to envisage but it would be deafeningly loud. 

How we hear

Our ears are quite a remarkable organ of our body.  They provide access to one of the most divine senses we have – the ability to hear.  Did you know your ears never stop hearing, even when you sleep?  If you don’t remember hearing noises while sleeping it’s because your brain just ignores incoming sounds.  But, our ears are incredible organs that carry waves in the air around you to your brain that we interpret as distinct sounds. To make this delicate process happen, every part of our ears must be in top working order. 

Hearing is a complex process involving steps that change sound waves in the air into electrical signals.  The sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through the ear canal, a narrow passageway that leads to the eardrum.  The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves sending these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear which are called the malleus, incus, and stapes. 

The bones in the middle ear amplify or increase the sound vibrations sending them to the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid, in the inner ear.  The vibrations cause the fluid to ripple – hair cells which are sensory cells, ride the waves. The hair cells move up and down, while chemicals rush into the cells, creating an electrical signal.  The auditory nerve carries the electrical signal to the brain, which turns it into a sound we recognize and understand. 

This fascinating process occurs mainly in the inner ear which is the circumference of a pencil eraser.

Loud noises main cause of hearing loss

Hearing loss is a common occurrence among many Americans.  About 1 in 6 U.S. adults or 37.5 million people ages 18 and older, have some form of trouble hearing. We live on a noisy planet that likes loud sounds – fireworks, rock concerts, motorcycles, and lawn mowers just to name a few.

The number one cause of hearing loss is exposure to excessively loud sounds (85 decibels or higher).  Your hearing can be damaged permanently even after a single exposure to extremely loud noise such as a shotgun blast, or an explosion. 

Hearing loss induced by loud noises happens when tiny hair-like structures called stereocilia, which sit on top of hair cells in your inner ear, are damaged or destroyed by noises that are too loud and last for too long.  Our sense of hearing depends on these tiny hairs deep inside our ear as without them, we lose the ability to hear which can be permanent.

How to protect your ears from hearing loss

Hearing loss can be avoided by preventing noise-induced sounds.  As a general rule, a noise is probably loud enough to damage your hearing if you have to raise your voice to talk to people or you can’t hear what they are saying, if a noise hurts your ears, or if you have ringing in your ears or muffled hearing afterwards. 

There are three main things you can do to prevent hearing loss:

·      Lower the volume

·      Use noise-cancelling earphones or headphones

·      Only listen to music where it sounds comfortable

·      Avoid listening to music at more than 60% of the maximum volume

·      Avoid using earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time – take a break at least five minutes every hour

·      Move away from the noise

·      Avoid being near loudspeakers at a concert

·      Take a break from the noise every 15 minutes and give your hearing about 18 hours to recover afterwards

·      Wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs

·      Wear earplugs at concerts, when mowing the lawn, sports events, nightclubs, or any event that has loud noises 

·      Make sure you’re not exposed to loud noise for long periods

Get your hearing tested

You may be already experiencing some hearing loss if you have been doing the following:

·       You often ask others to repeat what they just said. You may think people are mumbling or not speaking clearly. Family members ask you if your hearing is okay.

·       You cup your hand behind one of your ears when you listen.

·       You need to have the radio or television louder than usual.

·       You need to lean forward or turn your head to be able to hear.

·       You have ringing or buzzing in your ears or you are dizzy.

·       You avoid certain situations because you have a hard time hearing

If you suspect you are getting hard of hearing, get a hearing test as soon as possible.  The earlier hearing loss is picked up, the earlier something can be done about it.  Anyone who is exposed to noise-induced hearing loss such as if you work in a noisy environment such as a musician or factory worker should consider yearly hearing checks.