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How to Protect Your Ears from Hearing Loss

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Protect Your Ears from Hearing Loss

You just can't imagine the frustration my wife has with me at times. If there is any background noise in a room, I can't hear what she says. If I am washing my hands at the sink and she is in the kitchen, I often just hear a jumbled alphabet soup of words coming from her mouth. For years, I have said that she speaks too softly. She says she doesn't. I know for a fact that the problem is mine. I have partial permanent hearing loss in my right ear. I'm sure my left ear is not 100 percent as well.

What is Excess Noise?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that employers must offer a variety of hearing protection to employees who are exposed to noise that averages 85 decibels (dBA) over an 8 hour period. The key to hearing damage is the level of sound intensity and the length of time the noise is being produced. For example, a car horn can produce 120 dBA noise. If you hear a car horn for 10 seconds straight, you will probably experience no hearing damage whatsoever. However, honking the horn straight for 8 hours and you could be in serious trouble. It doesn't take long to hurt your hearing. For example, exposure to noise at 115 dBA can cause damage in just 15 minutes. Exposing your ears to 130 dBA noise for just 2 minutes can be very hazardous to your hearing.

Extremely loud blast type noises from explosives can cause instantaneous damage. Eardrums can be ruptured. Evolution has yet to take into account the discovery of gunpowder and nitroglycerin...

A Cumulative Effect

All noise above 85 decibels will do damage to your ears. Many regular daily noises are above that range. If you experience damage, you may just kill a few hair cells at a time in your inner ear. Slowly, but surely, it will take greater sound levels to adequately stimulate the auditory nerve that leads to your brain. Permanent hearing loss can't be reversed by pills, hearing aids, therapy or surgery. Once you destroy too many hair cells, you are out of luck. I am trying to do everything in my power to save what hair cells I have left. I want to be able to hear my grand children without having to use a hearing aid. It may be too late. When I do seminars, I often have to cup my hand over my ear to amplify a person's voice. I think I have major problems.

Watch Your Children!

Children's ears are more sensitive than adults. It takes less noise to cause damage. Little children are especially susceptible. Knowing what I now know, I would not allow my kids to have a baby rattle. Those little toys create dBA readings up to 135! Hearing loss in children can lead to learning disabilities. They may not be able to hear teachers or their attention span can drop. If your child is having problems, I might suggest a simple hearing test to see if that is the root of the problem.

Try to limit the exposure to loud music, firecrackers or any other loud noises. If your kids help you when you work, be sure they have ear plugs just like you. Don't let them near you when you cut the grass. Your lawn mower creates vast amounts of loud noise.

How to Protect Your Ears

I have used ear muffs for a long time to protect my ears against loud noises. They seemed to work fine. However, I had no idea how effective they might be. The research I did for this column taught me about the Noise Reduction Rating. This is a simple method to rate how much noise a device might block. The higher the rating number, the better job the ear protection offers.

It turns out that some of the best hearing protection devices are the simplest. These are the really nifty disposable foam ear plugs. Before I wrote this column and Builder Bulletin, I used to think these things were worthless. It turns out they offer the best protection.

I think it is based upon the fact that when inserted correctly into your ear canal they simply block all air passageways leading to your ear drum. That is the key. My old earmuffs probably didn't fit that well and allowed air to seep past the rubber gaskets.

The best way to protect your ears is to purchase a variety of ear protection devices. You may find one brand or style that is very comfortable. You want to use something that causes virtually no discomfort. If your ear plugs irritate you, you might be tempted to take them off. They don't do any good when they are off!

The disposable ones are so inexpensive that they can be thrown away after each use. I happen to use silicone rubber plugs that are connected by a string. I use them over and over. They are easy to insert and offer a noise reduction factor very close to that achieved by the disposable foam earplugs.

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