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.
Excess noise exposure isn’t the only cause of hearing damage. Diseases, medications and injury may all contribute to hearing loss. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your hearing and help prevent hearing impairment.
Protecting Your Hearing from Loud Noise
Exposure to hazardous noise is a common cause of hearing loss in adults. During our lives, the cumulative effects of noisy environments, also known as noise pollution, take a toll on the delicate structures of the inner ear. This can result in permanent sensorineural hearing loss. The effect of noise on hearing depends on how loud it is (sound intensity) and how long it lasts (duration). An estimated 15% 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 avoiding excessive noise when possible and correctly using hearing protection when necessary. Hearing protectors, including earmuffs, disposable earplugs and custom-fitted earplugs, can provide 20 to 40 dB of attenuation when used correctly.
Preventing Hearing Loss from Diseases
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. A rare, non-cancerous tumor called an acoustic neuroma may also 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.
Protection from Ototoxic Medication
Some medications cause damage to the sensory cells responsible for hearing. These include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy medications, 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 medications, see your doctor immediately.
Preventing Ear Injuries
Head trauma can damage the temporal bones in the lower lateral walls of the skull, leading to hearing loss. To help prevent this type of injury, take the following precautions:
- Wear a seat belt at all times when in a car.
- Wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle, and participating in contact sports.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks, such as standing on the top rung of a ladder.
There are other general steps you can take to protect your hearing. Refrain from inserting foreign objects into the ears, such as cotton swabs or safety pins, as this can lead to impacted earwax, a perforated eardrum, or damage to the ear canal. Use swim plugs when engaging in water activities and be sure to dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing. Seek prompt medical attention if you are suffering from an ear infection.Call Houston Hearing Center at 281-649-7215 for more information or to schedule an appointment.