Too-loud activities are damaging your hearing. Here's what to do about it.

HearingLossProtectionBlogRTFEveryone knows that workers at an active construction site could face hearing loss.

But what about moms in their 30s and 40s who work in an office? Their kids at school? Or even their parents?

All of them could face hearing loss through daily activities, say audiologists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and it’s worth taking simple steps to protect yourself.

What you need to know about hearing loss

First things first: Hearing loss is usually gradual and painless. Many people simply don’t realize they’re living with hearing loss – or recognize that their hearing is getting worse – because they adjust to their new reality.

So it’s important to know that even temporary ringing in your ears (like the day after a loud concert) is a sign that damage has been done to the hair cells in your inner ear that are responsible for hearing. And once they’re damaged, they’re done; you’ll experience a decrease in your hearing sensitivity over time.

The hair cells in your inner ear responsible for hearing are fragile. Once they're damaged, they're done.

When should you use ear protection?

Ohio State audiologists say there are two factors that can lead to hearing loss:

  • The loudness of a noise
  • The duration of loud noise

In general, our experts say, if you’re engaged in an activity that prevents you from understanding a person’s normal speaking voice at a conversational distance, then it’s probably a good idea to use hearing protection. For most people, that’s around 85 decibels (dB). (How loud is that? Think city traffic, a blender, a blow dryer, or idling heavy machinery.)

But the duration of a sound is a factor as well. Running a coffee grinder for 20 seconds isn’t a big deal, but working at an active construction site eight hours a day could lead to hearing loss – which is why OSHA regulations around loudness in the workplace start to kick in above 85 dB.

Still, the louder a sound is above 85 dB, the more seriously you should consider hearing protection – just because exposure of any duration can be damaging.

Here are some examples:

  • Listening to music with earbuds: 95 dB
  • Power tools: 98-110 dB
  • Motorcycle: 100 dB
  • Mowing the grass: 107 dB
  • Musical concert: 115 dB
  • Thunderclap: 120 dB
  • Pain can begin at 125 dB
  • Firing range: a typical gunshot is 140-190 dB
  • Jet engine: 140 dB

What type of ear protection should you use?

OK, so you understand now that you need to use protection – it’s just smart health. What are you looking for?

Hearing protection generally comes in two types: in-the-ear or over-the-ear – think earplugs vs. earmuffs. The key is fit: A well-seated earplug should completely seal the ear canal – any gap renders the plug nearly useless.

And be sure that earmuffs are properly seated around your entire ear – you don’t want any gaps created by the earpiece of your glasses or safety goggles.

If you are a frequent user of hearing protection, you could also opt for custom hearing protectors from an audiologist. Custom in-ear protectors modeled specifically for your ear canal ensure that you get a perfect fit with each use, and help you avoid the bulkiness of over-the-ear protection.

One more point: Your chintzy earbud headphones are not ear protection! Because you don’t get a full seal of your ear canal, you end up piping in music loud enough to hear over the lawnmower, which will cause you problems in the long run.

I think I might be facing hearing loss. What now?

With proper precautions, many people can keep their hearing healthy well into middle and even old age.

But if you do find yourself struggling to hear, Ohio State can help. Learn more about how we can help you and your family!