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Take Care of Your Ears! You’re Gonna Need Them!

I find that one of the great joys of nursing is having the opportunity to share life experiences with my patients and learn from their wisdom. The other day, I took care of a patient who was nearly deaf and had a very difficult time hearing almost anything, unless I spoke in a low tone, very close to his ear.

He shared with me the many ways that his hearing loss has negatively impacted his life, and he asked that I share his experiences with my future patients so that they might not have to experience the same hearing difficulties he has.

Protect your ears when you are young

He asked me how old I was, and I told him I would be turning 35 later this year.  He thought I was a bit younger, but nonetheless, he contributes his hearing loss to poor decision making when he was a young man.

He worked in a factory environment that continually exposed him to unsafe decibel levels, and he never took the time to wear hearing protection or consider the long-term effects of loud sound exposure. His message to me was clear, when you are young, you must commit to protecting your ears.

Imagine a world where…

Can you imagine not being able to hear the beautiful voices of your grandkids? Imagine a world without music, without laughter, without conversation.

Unfortunately, this is the case for millions of people. In fact, The House Ear Institute reports an estimated 32.5 million people in the United States suffer from hearing loss. Excessive noise exposure contributes to approximately 30 percent of all hearing loss, yet this type of hearing loss is preventable.

Learn about common decibel levels

According to the National Institute of Health, any regular exposure to loud sound over 110 decibels for more than 1 minute may result in permanent hearing loss.  But how loud is 110 decibels? Here are some common decibel levels from different sound sources:

  • 30:  Whispers
  • 40: Refrigerator humming
  • 60: Normal conversation
  • 90: Lawn mower
  • 100: Wood shop
  • 105: Stereo at maximum volume
  • 110-120: Rock concert

I think most people would agree that constant exposure to very loud sounds (concerts, factory equipment, explosions, etc.) quickly contributes to hearing loss. However, prolonged exposure to sounds between 80 and 110 decibels may also contribute to hearing loss.

In fact, the recommended maximum time to be exposed to 100-decibel sounds is only 15 minutes. The common rule of thumb is, if you have to raise your voice to be heard, the environment you are in is potentially hazardous to your hearing.

Tips to protect your ears

The most important thing you can do to protect your ears in loud situations is to wear ear protection. Consider bringing earplugs to loud concerts. Protect your ears when you mow the lawn or work in the shop.

It’s also important to consider your physical location in any loud environment. If you are near a speaker or source of the sound, try to move out of the direct path. And finally, make every effort to limit your exposure to loud noise.

Of course there are times in life where we will all be around loud environments, but it is important to limit these occasions and to be aware of the damage the may cause.

Seek help early so you can avoid problems later

If you suspect that you’ve suffered any recent hearing loss, or you are having increased difficulty hearing, please contact your doctor who can refer you to an otolaryngologist or otologist for further testing. The sooner you can seek help, the better.

Cristian Slough, M.D., otolaryngologist at Willamette Valley Ear, Nose and Throatin McMinnville, is an excellent provider, and staff member Pat Burmeister, M.A., CCC-A, is a trained audiologist.

For more information, the CDC provides an excellent brochure on hearing loss at the following link

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-175/pdfs/2007-175.pdf

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