From blaring sirens to pounding jackhammers to the roar of a cheering crowd, we have all come to accept that exposure to potentially hazardous volume levels is just a normal part of our every day lives. When we leave our homes, so much is beyond our control.
And many of us invest our lives into careers that come with risks to our hearing. This includes industries ranging from military service to miners to night life. Different as these may be, they each practically guarantee that anyone working within that field will have a heightened risk of hearing loss.
But what about the risks to our hearing that we live with every day and have failed to notice? What about the risks from within our own homes?
How Loud is Too Loud?
Prolonged exposure to any sound over 85 dB is a risk to damaging your hearing. And remember hearing loss is permanent and irreversible.
So what does 85 dB feel like or mean? Well, our normal breathing is 10 dB. Whispering is 30 dB. The hum of a refrigerator is 50 dB. Normal conversation is 60 dB. Subway trains reach 90 dB. Sirens are between 110 and 140.
But remember, there are multiple kinds of hearing loss. The most common form by far is sensorineural hearing loss, the result of damage to the delicate inner workings of the inner ear due to exposure to dangerously loud sounds. But there is also conductive hearing loss, which happens when sounds cannot get past the outer or middle ear. This is often a physical obstruction. Not to mention ototoxic chemicals that cause damage to hearing.
Taken in combination it is clear to see that we regularly face many potential dangers to our hearing even before we have left our own homes.
Household Items that Commonly Risk Hearing Health
Q-Tips and Cotton Swabs: Do no stick them in your ears. It may be among the ways in which they are commonly used, but it is a risk to your ear drum.
Tobacco: Nicotine harms blood circulation by constricting blood vessels. This reduced the flow of blood to the ears, which throws off the normal operations of healthy hearing.
Ototoxic Medications: Hearing loss and damage to the balance systems can be the gradual effect of regular exposure to certain ototoxic chemicals, such as pain relievers, antibiotics and chemotherapy treatments.
Earbuds and Headphones: The World Health Organization identifies loud music as the number one cause of hearing loss worldwide. Many of us spend so many hours each week with our earbuds or headphones on, it it especially important to develop healthy habits of listening at appropriate volumes. Considering that they are frequently used to block out background noise, it is especially tempting to turn them up, but this impulse must be resisted.
Toys: Squeeze dolls and toy horns are not just annoying. Their obnoxious levels also pose a risk.
Appliances: Limit your exposure to loud appliances such as vacuum cleaners, blenders, alarm clocks and the hair dryer most of all.
Power Tools: Drills average about 100 dB. Lawnmowers are closer to 105 dB. Chainsaws reach 110 dB. Get in the habit of wearing appropriate protection.
Simple Preventative Steps to Take
Hearing loss is so much more common than people are likely to believe. It is difficult to get exact numbers, but the best estimates suggest that around 44 million Americans live with hearing loss. That is almost 14% of the population. This percentage of the population increases with age and the vast majority of the people affected by it do not even recognize that it is happening to them for a long time. This is because it comes on so gradually.
The consequences of untreated hearing loss compound and risk your health and safety far beyond the obvious immediate concerns about awareness of your immediate surroundings. Hearing loss damages your psychologically and emotionally as well. Hearing health starts with forming simple safe habits.
Do not stick foreign objects in your ears. Be aware of the ototoxic potential of drugs in your home. Limit your time around uncomfortable volumes. Wear protective gear such as earplugs or earmuffs whenever possible.