Protect your ears and hear for years

by Maj. John A. Merkley
USACHPPMEUR Army Hearing Program Manager - Europe

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports that communication disorders affect approximately 46 million Americans. Of these, 28 million have hearing loss, 14 million have a speech or language disorder and four million have a balance disorder or suffer from smell and taste disorders. The Veterans Administration reports that hearing loss is the most prevalent disability in global contingency operations with tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears, a close second.

Hearing loss from noise generally occurs gradually. In fact, the onset can be so gradual that you won’t realize you have a problem until it’s too late. One person with noise-induced hearing loss described it as like being in a room full of candles, and one by one the candles were blown out. By the time he realized it was getting dark, most of the candles were out.

Tinnitus, on the other hand, generally attacks without warning. It may come and go at first, especially after attending a particularly loud concert or after a loud night out at the club, but then you go to sleep one night and the next morning you wake up with a new, constant companion.

This companion never leaves you and nags 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
One person with tinnitus described his tinnitus as fish frying.

“Fry, fry, fry – day in and day out. It’s all I hear!” he said.

Some believe that tinnitus is caused by depression. Most medical professionals believe it’s just the reverse. Tinnitus causes depression. Actor William Shatner has admitted to contemplating suicide because of his tinnitus.

Tinnitus is not something to take lightly. You may think it will never happen to you, but the statistics are not on your side, especially if you don’t take hearing protection seriously.

A recent report by the VA showed that 93,000 returning Iraq veterans were affected by tinnitus. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that 50 million Americans suffer from Tinnitus.

With summer upon us, the potential for exposure to loud, damaging noise increases. Typical summertime activities like watching fireworks, mowing the lawn, attending concerts, riding motorcycles and increased use of personal stereo systems produce dangerous noise levels that can damage your hearing.

Audiologists at the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine in Europe recommend protecting your hearing by avoiding excessively loud noises when possible. If you can’t avoid the noise, take a few simple precautions:

• Alternate noisy activities with periods of quiet
• Use properly fitted hearing protection
• Limit lengthy periods of loud noise exposure
• Purchase items that produce low noise levels

How do you know if it’s too loud?

The Department of Defense and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health agree that when noise exceeds 85 decibels, it becomes hazardous. However, the ear is actually very resilient and consumers need to understand that hearing loss from noise is a function of both time and intensity. The louder the noise, the less time you can be exposed without causing damage.

NIOSH recommends that you not be exposed to 85 dB for greater than eight hours in a day. How loud is 85 dB? If you’re having difficulty communicating at three-foot distance without raising your voice, the noise level is around 85 dB. Lawn mowers typically produce noise levels as high as 89 dB. Every time the loudness increases by three dB, the amount of time you should be exposed to the noise is cut in half.

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. The theme this year is “Helping People Communicate.” When it comes to hearing the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true.

Just ask anyone with hearing loss.