Hearing Protection

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 cause of hearing loss in the U.S. Fortunately, it is easily preventable. Steps can be taken to help prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.

It is essential for those exposed to loud noise to wear hearing protection. 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. Workers who are exposed to loud noise in the workplace must be given hearing protection by their employer as mandated by OSHA requirements. Whenever possible, choose quieter products, including quieter power tools and appliances.

When using earphones, remember the 80-90 rule: you can listen at 80 percent of the maximum volume of your music player for 90 minutes per day. Increasing the volume leads to less safe listening time and decreasing the volume results in longer safe listening time.

Musicians should consider the use of specialized musician’s earplugs while playing or listening to music. These earplugs can be helpful to reduce sound levels while maintaining the fidelity of music. Stage musicians may also consider the use of in-ear monitors which can help to block out stage/crowd noise and allow the musician to listen to their mix at lower levels. The UCHealth Hearing and Balance Center provides compressive services to local and national musicians, including hearing protection and in-ear monitors.

Excess noise exposure isn’t the only cause of hearing damage. Diseases, drugs and injury may all contribute to hearing loss. Fortunately, individuals can take steps to protect their hearing and help prevent hearing impairment. 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. To minimize the risk of hearing loss from disease, children should be vaccinated. Immunizations offer protection from many childhood infections that can cause hearing damage. Sexually active individuals should use protection to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which can cause hearing loss.

Certain drugs 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 the odds of hearing loss from medications, it is recommended that individuals take medications only as directed and contact their doctor immediately if they experience symptoms of hearing loss such as tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear) when taking new drugs. For some people taking high-risk medications, regular hearing tests can be used to monitor for changes related to medication use.

Head trauma can damage the temporal bones in the lower lateral walls of the skull, leading to hearing loss. Wearing a seatbelt at all times when in a car, wearing a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle and participating in contact sports and avoiding taking unnecessary risks, such as standing on the top rung of a ladder, will all help prevent this type of injury.

To schedule an appointment to discuss your noise exposure, and what you can do to help reduce your risk for hearing loss, please call UCHealth Hearing & Balance at (720) 848-2800.