News & Events

Watch the Volume - Keep the Decibels Down to Avoid Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

July 29, 2015

By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published July 29, 2015

We only have one set of ears, so we better take care of them. At least that’s what our mothers would advise.

Unfortunately, many people may be unknowingly going against that advice and putting themselves at risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

According to the CDC, as much as 12.5 percent of youth ages 6 to 19 and 17 percent of adults ages 20 to 69 have suffered from permanent hearing loss due to noise exposure. Hearing damage can be from prolonged exposure or a single exposure to loud sounds.

There can be many loud sounds that can lead to hearing damage, but one that may go unnoticed is music — whether at a live concert or listening through headphones. Many people of all ages enjoy music, which has even been shown to have health benefits as a stress reducer, but there can be too much — as in volume — of a good thing.

Kim Anthony, audiologist at Alliance Community Hospital, says when it comes to hearing loss, it’s all about the decibels. To help area children learn this early on, Anthony has offered educational programs in the schools, teaching about dangerous decibels and the importance of using hearing protection.

Anthony said 85 is the magic number when damage becomes possible, however at that number it is prolonged exposure of eight hours. Stereo headphone use may be closer to 94 dB, which has a one-hour limit, whereas a rock concert is a much higher volume, so damage can be done much more quickly. She said such situations can cause temporary hearing loss with the possibility of recovery or it could be permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss is usually seen as a problem for the elderly, so Anthony said younger people tend to think it can’t happen to them.

“As we age there could be hearing loss because of the aging process, but the young people don’t have any nerve ending damage so they may think they can tolerate it longer or they think their ears are indestructible, but they’re not,” she said. “When you’re young you think you’re invincible and nothing will ever happen to you.”

But as statistics show, it can happen at any age.

Anthony always recommends using hearing protection when at a concert, and when wearing headphones, she said it’s important to keep the volume at a reasonable level.

“The general rule is if you’re standing an arm’s length away from somebody and you’re plugged in or he’s plugged in and you’re talking and you can’t understand each other, it’s too loud,” Anthony said of headphone use. “As long as you’re one arm-length away and you’re plugged in and you can understand that person, that’s supposed to be a safe level.”

She doesn’t recommend listening to headphones in a loud environment because people may feel the need to crank up the volume, which could damage hearing. If you do choose to wear headphones, in addition to watching the volume level, pay attention to the time of exposure.

Anthony said to be especially cautious of earbuds, which sit down inside the ear and offer more potential for damage than other types of headphones because they are closer to the eardrum, causing the sound pressure to be greater.

She also suggested the use of a free decibel meter application on mobile devices — such as Listen Carefully by Starkey Hearing Technologies — in order to find the levels and gauge the dangers. “Download an app and do some investigating of your own,” she said.

Anthony said because hearing loss is often a gradual thing, people sometimes walk around five or six years before they realize they have it. “You don’t really notice it until you’re asking people to repeat something or family members make a comment,” she added.

Those who suspect a hearing loss should talk to their doctor about getting a hearing test.

Dr. Kim Anthony

Alliance Community Hospital audiologist Kim Anthony talks about headphone safety and the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss. (Courtesy of The Alliance Review, July 29, 2015)

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