Hearing Loss and How to Prevent It 

by Liz McManus, M.S., CC-A,FAAA

As an audiologist, I run into a lot of people who have damaged their hearing with excessive exposure to loud noise.  Loud noise can come in a variety of forms such as gunfire, heavy equipment, loud music, and yes, even the combination of engine and wind noise generated by riding your bike.  Many of my patients say things like, “Well my hearing loss isn’t that bad” or “I don’t have any hearing loss”, when in fact the opposite is true.  Noise-induced hearing loss tends to happen very gradually over time so that the person suffering from the hearing loss doesn’t even realize it’s there.  Their friends and family members notice it because they are asked to speak louder or repeat parts of a conversation multiple times.  The good news is that noise induced-hearing loss is preventable.  

Hearing loss occurs when noise level is increased beyond a safe level for any duration of time.   A combination of wind and engine noise at high speeds can reach 120-140 dB.  By law, a factory worker or heavy equipment operator would only be allowed to work for 15 minutes in an environment equally loud.  With the use of well-fit hearing protection, the noise level can be brought down to a safer level to allow for longer periods of exposure before any damage occurs.   

Whether or not you wear ear protection now, think about the following:

     Do you have ringing in your ears, especially after riding your bike? 

     Do you notice any hearing loss?  Does your family?

     Does speech sound muffled to you, especially after riding your bike?

     Do your ears hurt? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing symptoms of noise exposure.  If you are wearing ear protection, it may not be fitting well or it may not be enough.  

Remember, prevention is the only cure for noise-induced hearing loss.  Prevention includes:

     Know which noises can cause damage (those above 85 decibels).

     Wear ear plugs or other hearing protective devices when involved in a loud activity

     Be alert to hazardous noise in the environment.

     Protect children who are too young to protect themselves.

     Have a medical examination by an ear, nose, and throat physician, and a hearing test by an audiologist, a health professional who specializes in hearing and balance. 

Custom earplugs are available through an audiologist.  Generally, an audiologist will take molds of your ears and you’ll have your new custom earplugs in about 2 weeks.  Costs range from $70-$160 per pair depending on your preferences as to size and level of noise reduction.  You can also get over-the-counter generic earplugs with good noise reduction ratings.  However, keep in mind that these earplugs are designed to be fully inserted into the ear canal.  If you use them but don’t insert them properly, you lose a lot of the benefit of using earplugs.   

This is where custom earplugs help.  There is no question as to whether or not you are using them correctly.  They are custom designed to fit your ear so they slide in easily and they stay put.  Protecting your hearing is in your best interest.  Using ear protection may mean saving your hearing, and the need for hearing aids, later.  

For more information about custom hearing protection, hearing tests, or noise-induced hearing loss  contact me, Liz McManus, M.S., CCC-A, FAAA, at 520-795-8777 or lizmcmanus@cox.net. 

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