4th of July Hearing Protection
By: Dr. Lori Biasotti
Last year, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) issued a warning that is worth repeating. BHI encouraged people to wear earplugs when enjoying fireworks. The director of BHI, Dr. Sergei Kochin, said, “The best advice I can offer is to leave the fireworks to the professionals and sit at a comfortable distance from the display, where you can enjoy the colors and lights, but not expose your self and your family to loud noises. To protect your hearing, make sure you are all wearing earplugs and that they are securely in place before the show and keep them in for the entire show.”
Disposable earplugs, made of foam or silicone, can be found in a drugstore. You can roll them in your hands, insert in your ear canal, push in and hold your finger over the plug for a moment to let them expand in place. These plugs will allow you to still have conversations and hear music while protecting your hearing. If you really love your music, or if you are a musician, custom musician plugs are for you. They are able to preserve the fidelity of the music while protecting your hearing. Contact an audiologist to make impressions of your ears and to order these plugs for you.
Noise is a common, and preventable, cause of hearing loss. Hearing loss can be due to a one-time exposure, but it is usually caused by continuous exposure. Officials with the American Academy of Audiology state that approximately 36 million people have hearing loss and 1 in 3 have hearing loss due to noise. Noise causes damage to the hair cells in the inner ear.
When we hear, these delicate hair cells vibrate causing nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. When these hair cells are damaged, the result is sensorineural hearing loss and often accompanying tinnitus(ringing in the ears). The hair cells that are first to be damaged are the ones that allow us to hear higher frequency sounds. These sounds include birds, children speaking and sounds that allow us to understand speech in noise. Over time, other frequencies are also affected.
Any sounds over 85 dB are considered unsafe. At close range, fireworks can start at 125 dB. Loud concerts(even outdoors) can also be well over 100 dB. Here are some warning signs that the noise (or music) is too loud from the Better Hearing Institute:
You have pain in your ears after leaving the noisy area. You hear ringing or buzzing in your ears immediately after exposure to the noise/musicYou suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise, you can hear, but not understand speech
So enjoy those outdoor concerns and fireworks, but be safe by using hearing protection. If you think you may have damaged your hearing from loud sound exposure, make an appointment with an audiologist. She will evaluate your hearing and tinnitus( if you have tinnitus) and refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist as appropriate.