Beauty is in the “ear” of the beholder. What may be noise to one person may be a beautiful melody to another. In fact, I distinctly remember my mother saying, “turn that racket off!” when all I wanted to do was turn the music up louder. I wish I would have listened. Now, I have a constant ringing sound, called tinnitus in my ears. The average person doesn’t realize that there are other noises, not just music, that occur in our daily lives that can be dangerous to our ears.
According to the Better Hearing Institute, 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day and 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from exposure to noise. And, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 15% of American teens suffer from some measure of hearing loss. The sad part is that this type of hearing loss is completely preventable.
How loud is too loud?
Normal conversational speech occurs at approximately 60 decibels. A good rule of thumb is, if you have to raise your voice to be heard over the sound, it’s probably too loud to listen to for a long period of time. The length of time you can be exposed to a loud sound before permanent damage occurs depends on the volume of the sound. As the volume gets louder, the amount of time you are exposed to the sound should decrease in order to keep your ears safe. For example, exposure to 110 decibels (the volume of a chain saw) for only a few minutes without ear protection can be as damaging as an exposure to 85 decibels (the volume level of the typical lawn mower) for 8 hours.
What are the symptoms of noise induced hearing loss?
Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) usually develops gradually over time. It’s possible for someone to lose a significant amount of hearing before becoming aware of its presence. Often, the first sign of NIHL is a slight ringing sound in the ears that may only be noticeable in a very quiet environment, like when you are trying to go to sleep at night. If noise exposure continues over time, you might begin to notice that the high-pitched sounds are not as clear. I will often hear, “I can hear just fine, I just can’t understand what people are saying.” The high frequencies are responsible for the majority of the clarity of speech. NIHL affects the high frequencies.
People fail to notice the impact of unsafe noise exposure because it causes few symptoms and for most people, occurs gradually over time. Hearing loss is rarely painful. At first, the ringing sounds may go away several minutes or hours after the noise exposure ends. You might assume that if the symptoms disappear, the ears have returned to normal. Even in the absence of symptoms, some of the cells in the inner ear that are necessary for hearing clearly may have been permanently damaged or destroyed by the noise. With repeated noise exposure, more cells are destroyed and a permanent hearing loss is likely to develop.
How can I prevent noise induced hearing loss?
Hearing loss caused by excessive noise exposure is not reversible, but NIHL is preventable.
There are three general rules for preventing permanent hearing loss due to noise:
1) Understand what noises put you at risk. Remember, if you have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s probably too loud.
2) Decrease the volume whenever possible.
3) If in doubt, wear ear protection.
The American Academy of Audiology is leading the way to get the word out about noise induced hearing loss, especially to kids. The “Turn it to the left” campaign is educating kids and teens on the hazards of noise exposure in order to protect their hearing for a lifetime. To learn more about noise induced hearing loss or to determine whether noise exposure has damaged your hearing, contact your audiologist today.
Hearing loss is one of the most common birth defects in newborns. One of every one-thousand infants is born deaf, and five of every thousand have enough hearing loss to affect their success in school. The good news is that most babies have a hearing screening before they leave the hospital. Many of those who don’t pass the initial screening undergo further diagnostic testing by an audiologist to determine if the problem is temporary, or if a permanent loss is present. Many years of research has determined the earlier a child is diagnosed with hearing loss and a treatment plan begun, the more successful the child will be in communicating, using spoken and written language.
Hearing tests for children can take as little as five minutes with a test called OAE’s, (Otoacoustic Emissions). The test is performed by inserting a small soft ear tip into the child’s ear canal. A computer program emits a clicking sound into the ear canal. A microphone in the ear tip measures very quiet sounds produced by the ear in response to the click. Other testing techniques involve game playing where the audiologist will teach the child to respond to a sound by using small toys that light up. The child learns that by looking in the direction of the sound, they will be rewarded by seeing the toy. Still other testing can measure the brain waves generated in response to sound.
Once identified with a permanent hearing loss, a child can be treated in a variety of ways in order to improve communication opportunities. Surgical or medical treatment may be a solution but in many instances infants are fit with hearing aids or cochlear implants to provide sound stimulation to the brain. If you suspect your child has a hearing loss, a visit to the audiologist is the next best step.
FACT: Babies Hear Before They’re Even Born
Did you know that your baby’s hearing is intact by the third trimester? Ultrasounds show that an unborn baby, still in the womb, will actually turn his or her head in response to a sound. Studies have even shown that your unborn child can hear sounds as early as 20 weeks. This information has led to a movement among new parents to expose their children to the sounds of their voices and to classical music, which is said to improve spatial development and increase the growth of neural connections in the brain; something called “the Mozart effect.”
Noises from outside the body are muffled but they make it through surprisingly well. Low frequency sounds tend to be clearer in the womb than higher frequency sounds. Men’s voices, for instance, come through clearer than women’s, and music is also easily recognizable. Research has shown that fetuses will move in time to music they enjoy. Research also indicates that a fetus can even hear and recognize specific speech patterns and intonations, although they probably cannot recognize words themselves. Some studies have shown that babies after birth will recognize a story read repeatedly to them while in the womb and that babies are soothed more readily by the voice that read to them.
What this indicates is that babies start learning by listening and interacting with the sounds and voices around them even before they are born. When a baby is born with hearing loss, many sounds and voices are not heard and the child’s speech and language development can be delayed. But more importantly, the child has not developed that early bond to his or her caregivers. In effect, babies born with hearing loss start out with a large disadvantage compared to babies who are born without hearing loss. That’s why early detection is so critical.
Hearing Loss Can Be Found Early
It’s important to identify hearing loss in children as early as possible. Early identification allows families to make decisions quickly that can affect the speech, language, and social development of their child. Each year in the United States, as many as 12,000 babies are born with a hearing loss. Fortunately, almost all states now offer hearing screening for all babies born in a hospital. The hearing screening is easy, painless and can identify hearing loss with great accuracy. It only takes a few minutes and generally, the child sleeps through the entire testing process.
If you happen to live in a rural area that doesn’t offer newborn hearing screening or if your baby was born in a clinic or at home, you should have your baby’s hearing screened for hearing loss no later than 1 month of age. If your baby does not pass the hearing screening, it’s very important to make an appointment for a full hearing test no later than 3 months of age.
The goal for every newborn child identified with hearing loss is to make sure that they receive medical, audiologic, educational and support services no later than 6 months of age. Receiving services at this early age is crucial to developing the communication and language skills that are necessary for success in school and in life.
If your child didn’t have a hearing screening at birth, call our office today to schedule an appointment. We’d be glad to help.