Some 28 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss, which makes the problem the third leading chronic illness in the U.S. following arthritis and hypertension.
April 29 is International Noise Awareness Day and audiologists at Baystate Rehabilitation Care encourage people of all ages to protect their hearing while they still can.
"We have seen an overwhelming number of young adults who have damaged their hearing while listening to iPods too loud and not being aware of everyday sounds, such as lawn mowers, that can cause permanent hearing loss over time," said Jeanne Coburn, audiologist, Baystate Rehabilitation Care.
Continuous exposure to noise of about 85 decibels can be harmful to your hearing, noted Coburn. A simple table saw has a decibel level of almost 95.
"Certain professions are at a higher risk for hearing loss than others," Coburn said. "Construction workers, mechanics, factory workers, and people who work with firearms or power tools need to take the necessary precautions to protect their hearing every day," she added.
Most people do not realize how easily their hearing is damaged; even just 10 minutes of exposure to loud noise can affect your hearing. "Those ten minutes each day add up," Coburn said.
Ear plugs or ear muffs are the most effective way to protect your hearing. "Both are very effective, it just depends on your personal preference," Coburn said.
And, ear plugs don't have to be inhibiting. "There are special devices for certain activities," Coburn added. Musicians can buy custom ear plugs that make the sounds softer, while still preserving the quality of sound. Hunters have the option of electronic ear muffs that allow them to hear their surroundings until they fire their gun, so it does not get in the way of their sport.
Some of the early signs of hearing loss can include tinnitus, commonly known as ringing in the ears, plugged ears, and difficulty understanding people. High frequency hearing loss is another common sign, making it more difficult to hear high-pitched consonants and to decipher certain words.
Hearing loss can have negative effects on your health and well-being, Coburn noted. Hearing damage causes increased blood pressure and changes in blood chemistry. "It becomes more difficult to communicate when you cannot hear, so there is often frustration for the person, as well as their family members because of the inability to communicate," Coburn said.
"As a general rule, if you are participating in any activity from a music concert to using a chain saw, where someone has to raise their voice to communicate over the noise, you need to be wearing some form of audio protection," Coburn said.
Although hearing loss is irreversible, there are options available to prevent it from getting worse. If you are experiencing problems with hearing loss, talk to your primary care doctor who can refer you to an audiologist at Baystate Rehabilitation Care who can administer a hearing test and discuss treatment options.
For more information on hearing services, visit www.baystatehealth.org and click on Rehabilitation Care under the "Services" tab.
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