Excess noise exposure, medical illness, medications and injury may all contribute to hearing loss.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
We are exposed to sound on a daily basis. Volume levels vary considerably and can easily exceed 85 decibels (dB) – the threshold that is considered safe. Any prolonged exposure to noise exceeding this is harmful and can cause permanent, irreversible hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common type experienced by younger individuals. It can be caused by exposure to a single loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noise over a period of time.
When sounds exceed 85 decibels (dB) they are considered hazardous to your hearing health. Continuous exposure to volume levels that high causes permanent damage to the hair cells in your ears.
Activities that put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include hunting, riding a motorcycle, listening to music at high volumes, playing in a band and attending rock concerts. An estimated 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise exposure. This type of hearing loss can be prevented by wearing earplugs and protective devices.
Protecting Your Hearing from Loud Noise
Follow these tips to protect your hearing:
- Wear hearing protection when exposed to loud noise. Earplugs are a must in noisy environments such as rock concerts and sporting events. They should also be worn when riding a motorcycle or snowmobile, mowing the lawn, using power tools, etc. If your job exposes you to loud noise, your employer is required by OSHA to supply hearing protection.
- Turn down the volume. When listening to music or watching television, keep the volume low.
- Limit the number of noisy appliances running at the same time.
- Buy quieter products. Many appliances list dB ratings in their specifications.
Examples of Custom Hearing Protection
Preventing Hearing Loss from Medical Illness
Some diseases can cause hearing loss. Viruses that might damage hearing include measles, mumps, whooping cough and rubella. Bacterial diseases such as meningitis and syphilis can also lead to hearing damage. Acoustic neuroma – tumors on the hearing nerve (usually benign) – may contribute to hearing loss. Tips for preventing hearing loss from disease include:
- Make sure your child is vaccinated. Immunizations offer protection from many childhood infections that can cause hearing damage.
- If you are sexually active, use protection to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which can cause hearing loss.
- Don’t delay seeking medical attention should you fall ill.
Certain Medications are Associated with Hearing Loss
Some medications cause damage to the sensory cells responsible for hearing. These include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, salicylate pain relievers (e.g., aspirin), quinine (for treating malaria) and diuretics. In order to reduce your odds of hearing loss when taking medications, follow these tips:
- Take medications only as directed.
- If you experience symptoms of hearing loss such as tinnitus while taking new drugs, see your doctor immediately.