Reduce noise levels to avoid hearing loss

Local audiology experts stress prevention to reduce the risks of noise-induced hearing loss.

More people are losing their ability to hear than before due to excessively high levels of noise from cell phones, earbuds, fireworks, music concerts and household work and yard equipment.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss and the numbers are increasing.

“Hearing loss is the third most prevalent health problem according to the American Academy of Audiologists,” said Kristin Jones, a doctor of audiology.

From the time a person notices his or her hearing loss until they seek treatment an average of seven years elapse,” Jones said, primarily because hearing loss carries a stigma and is most often thought of as occurring among those over age 60.

“If exposure to damaging noise continues,” Heather Nackley, Au.D., said, “hearing loss which may have been slight or mild can become severe, affecting speech understanding and ability to communicate and work.”

She suggests lowering the volume on noise limiting ear buds, noise canceling or noise isolating headphones. For example, Nackley said, cell phone output settings should be no greater than 60 percent of the maximum setting.

A recent study showed that 80 percent of iPod users had the volume set at too high a level, according to Jones.

Several years ago, the American Academy of Audiology ran a public education campaign to get people to “turn it to the left” — referring to volume knobs turning to the left to lower the sound.

“Parents today need more and better education,” Jones said, about protecting their own and their children’s hearing.

Awareness of environmental noise levels is a first step, said Nackley. She recommends smart phone apps that help measure sound levels at work, home and in the community, such as Decibel X:dB, dBA Noise Meter.

“Prevention and awareness are the key components here,” Nackley said. “If hearing loss is suspected, talk to your doctor or seek a hearing evaluation from an audiologist. Hearing screenings occur regularly in childhood, but young adults must be proactive in recognizing the problem and seek help.”

Additional tips to protect hearing include:

n Avoid, walk away or increase the distance from loud speakers or noise sources.

n Take breaks and limit the amount of time exposed to noise.

n Consistently wear ear protection, such as foam earplugs, custom-molded earplugs and inserts with and without filters for musicians and professionals who need to hear music or co-workers; circumaural muffs (ear muffs that encompass the entire out ear) also provide an alternative.

The American of Audiology’s web site provides information to consumers.

Staff writer Patt keith can be reached at 949-7030