Frequently Asked Questions
How can I protect my hearing?
There are four easy ways to protect yourself from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
- Turn it down
- Wear hearing protection
- Create a distance between you and the sound source
- Limit your exposure time
How long does it take for damage to hearing to manifest itself?
Damage can be apparent immediately, or it can gradually become noticeable. Because the majority of hearing impairment comes on gradually, this makes it more difficult to notice that damage has taken place.
Where does ear wax come from, and what does it have to do with hearing?
The scientific name is cerumen. Wax in the ears is a common and easily treatable cause of deafness, discomfort, and sometimes noises in your ears (tinnitus). The skin cells lining our outer ear canals include tiny glands, similar to sweat glands, which produce wax and acts as a protective layer, which traps dust and other particles which get into the ear. The wax slowly works its way to the outside, taking the trapped dirt and dust with it along with a scent that helps repel insects. Ear wax only causes problems when it builds up, which may be due to overproduction or difficulties in the natural clearance of the wax. DO NOT clean your ears with a Q-Tip unless it is the outer portion of the ear (Pinna). Arrange to see a professional regarding having your ears washed out on a regular basis.
What sounds cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)?
NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time.
- The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels. For example, usual conversation is approximately 60 decibels, the humming of a refrigerator is 40 decibels and city traffic noise can be 80 decibels. Examples of sources of loud noises that cause NIHL are concerts, major sporting events, motorcycles, power tools, firecrackers and small arms fire, each of which emit sounds from 120 decibels to 140 decibels.
- Exposure to harmful sounds can cause damage to the sensitive hair cells of the inner ear and to the nerve of hearing. These structures can be injured by noise in two different ways:
- an intense brief impulse, such as an explosion
- continuous exposure to noise, such as that in an industrial manufacturing shop, band practice or performance, major sporting or entertainment event
What are the effects of noise-induced hearing loss?
The effect from sound can be instantaneous and can result in an immediate hearing loss that may be permanent.
- The structures of the inner ear may be severely damaged. This kind of hearing loss may be accompanied by tinnitus (an experience of sound like ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears or head) which may subside over time. Hearing loss and tinnitus may be experienced in one or both ears, and tinnitus may continue constantly or intermittently throughout a lifetime.
- The damage that occurs slowly over years of exposure to loud noise is accompanied by various changes in the structure of the hair cells. It also results in hearing loss and tinnitus.
- Exposure to impulse and continuous noise may cause only a temporary hearing loss. If the hearing recovers, the temporary hearing loss is called a temporary threshold shift. The temporary threshold shift largely disappears within 16 hours after exposure to loud noise.
- Hearing that does not recover is because permanent damage has occurred. This hearing loss is permanent.
- Both forms of NIHL can be prevented by the regular use of hearing protectors such as earplugs or earmuffs.
What are the symptoms of NIHL?
The symptoms of NIHL that occur over a period of continuous exposure increase gradually. Sounds may become distorted or muffled, and it may be difficult for the person to understand speech. The individual may not be aware of the loss, but it can be detected with a hearing test.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is affected by Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)?
More than 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis. Individuals of all ages including children, adolescents, young adults and older people can develop NIHL.
Exposure occurs in the workplace, in recreational settings and at home. There is an increasing awareness of the harmful noises in recreational activities, such as, concerts, sporting events, target shooting or hunting, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, go-carts, woodworking and other hobby equipment.
Harmful noises at home may come from vacuum cleaners, garbage disposals, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and shop tools. People who live in either urban or rural settings may be exposed to noisy devices on a daily basis.
Of the 28 million Americans who have some degree of hearing loss, about one-third have been affected, at least in part, by noise.
Can Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) be prevented?
Noise-induced hearing loss is in most cases 100% preventable. All individuals should understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good health in everyday life.
- Know which noises can cause damage (those above 85 decibels).
- Wear ear plugs or other hearing protective devices when involved in a loud activity (special earplugs and earmuffs are available at hardware stores and sporting good stores).
- Be alert to hazardous noise in the environment.
- Protect children who are too young to protect themselves.
- Make family, friends and colleagues aware of the hazards of noise.
- Have a medical examination by an otolaryngologist, a physician who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, head and neck, and a hearing test by an audiologist, a health professional trained to identify and measure hearing loss and to rehabilitate persons with hearing impairments.
What research is being done for Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)?
Scientists focusing their research on the mechanisms causing NIHL hope to understand more fully the internal workings of the ear, that will result in better prevention and treatment strategies. For example, scientists have discovered that damage to the structure of the hair bundle of the hair cell is related to temporary and permanent loss of hearing. They have found that when the hair bundle is exposed to prolonged periods of damaging sound, the basic structure of the hair bundle is destroyed and the important connections among hair cells are disrupted which directly lead to hearing loss.
Other studies are investigating potential drug therapies that may provide insight into the mechanisms of NIHL. For example, scientists studying altered blood flow in the cochlea are seeking the effect on the hair cells. They have shown reduced cochlear blood flow following exposure to noise. Further research has shown that a drug that promotes blood flow used for treatment of peripheral vascular disease (any abnormal condition in blood vessels outside the heart), maintains circulation in the cochlea during exposure to noise. These findings may lead to the development of treatment strategies to reduce NIHL.
Continuing efforts will provide opportunities that can aid research on noise-induced hearing loss as well as other diseases and disorders that cause hearing loss. Research is the way to develop new, more effective methods to prevent, diagnose, treat and eventually eliminate these diseases and disorders and improve the health and quality of life for all Americans.
At what age would it be okay to bring a child to a concert or sporting & entertainment event?
All of us start out life with a full set of tiny sensors in the inner ear called “hair cells”. They are so small that they can only be seen with a very high powered microscope. The hair cells are spread across a long membrane in the cochlea (inner ear) like the keys on a piano… low frequencies at one end and high frequencies at the other. We all start losing hair cells from the time we are born. They tend to die from the high frequency end first. This progresses very slowly throughout our lives and becomes noticeable in our late 50′s and early 60′s in most people.
It is recommended that you get a pair of earmuffs for yourself and for the child. Toddler’s heads are almost adult size by the time they are a year old, so most earmuffs will work fine. Simply put them on your child when you anticipate a blast of hazardous sound and take them off when you don’t. This will reduce the total cumulative noise exposure and protect those thousands of little hair cells. It will also set a good example for the child and for the other people attending the concert or sporting event. They can learn that you can have a great time and protect your important sense of hearing at the same time.
How long of an exposure without ear protection would potentially cause problems for infant & youth?
One thing that seems to speed up that process is exposure to loud noise. Loud bursts of noise (like a dragster blasting off from the starting line) or prolonged noise (like working in a moderately noisy factory for years) can have the exact same effect. There is no evidence that a child will be more or less vulnerable to noise exposure than an adult. The fact is that BOTH are going to get damage from loud sounds. The only thing is that a toddler has more to lose because they are so much earlier on in the natural process of losing hair cells and is a critical time for things such as speech development.
What about sounds outside our hearing range: Is there any damage – dog whistles, etc?
Damage to hearing is caused by sounds that are too loud, regardless of their frequency. Damage from sound is determined by the loudness of the sound and also by the duration of exposure to the sound. Brief exposure to an 85 dB sound (such as a blender) is O.K. However, prolonged continuous exposure (8 or more hours) to the same sound could damage hearing. Some sounds (such as gunfire or standing next to a helicopter) are so loud (120-160 dB), that any brief exposure to them without wearing earmuffs or earplugs can damage hearing. (This means that the dog whistles are at a very high frequency but that they do not move the air enough to damage the inner ear hair cells.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a decibel (dB) and how/who originated decibels?
A unit used to measure the intensity of a sound.
Read about the history of bels and decibels (a decibel is one-tenth of a bel):http://otto.cmr.fsu.edu/~elec4mus/topics/decibel.html)
Is it only the decibel level that is important in terms of damage to the ears, or does the frequency
In other words are high or low frequencies more dangerous than those in the middle range
The decibel level and time of exposure are the most important considerations, referred to as our exchange rate. Some sounds — such as gunfire, explosions, etc. — are so loud (140 or more decibels), that ANY brief exposure to them at close range can cause permanent damage and hearing loss. Sounds at 100 decibels (such as loud music through stereo headphones) will take a while longer to cause permanent damage to hair cells in the cochlea. The frequency of the sound is less important than its decibel level and time of exposure.
Personal Entertainment Devices (i.e. phones, tablets) – Are they safe for children of all ages?
They are safe for all ages as long as they are not too loud for too long.
Personal Entertainment Devices – Does loudness vary a great deal from one brand/model to another?
The output levels across brands of models tests are about the same, especially in the high decibel level – Only recently have Apple and Android start providing volume limited software.
What about the headphones, over the ear vs. ear buds; one less damaging than the other?
No – it depends on how loud you set the volume and for how long you listen to that volume.
How loud is too loud when the volume wheel tells me nothing?
A rule of thumb is if you can not understand someone talking to you in a normal speaking voice when they are an arm’s length away… it is too loud. This rule works with standard earbuds and headphone. If you are using noise-canceling headphone, see the following rule of thumb.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a rule of thumb about setting limits on the volume wheel?
A conservative rule of thumb reflects no more than 60 minutes at the 60% volume.
Is it less damaging to listen thru speakers rather than a personal headset?
It is the decibel level that reaches the ears and how long it is listened to that are the issues. No matter what the sound source is, if that sound is 85dB or more, there are limits to how long a person (any person) can safely listen to it.
When to Wear Your Ears Rock products?
- Work to protect your ears from noise
- Musicians and Concert Goers
- Sporting Events
- Increase Productivity
- Comfort Sensory Sensitivities
- Recreational Activities (ie. target shooting, hunting, powersports)
- Gas powered equipment and power tools (ie. lawnmowers, leaf blowers, saws)
What are some other causes of permanent hearing loss?
Other than hearing loss associated with aging (Presbycusis), the most prevalent cause is working around noise and recreational activities. The ear does not know the difference between loud noise and loud music. To the ear, noise and music are just vibrations in the air. Rarely, a person may suffer a permanent hearing loss from a virus or even a brain tumor. These usually have a sudden onset and may be accompanied by dizziness. Hearing loss from noise or music tends to be gradual in nature with no dizziness.
Can my hearing loss be treated with medicine or surgery?
Only hearing losses that are from the middle ear (where kids get ear infections) or from the outer ear (such as wax occlusion) can be treated. Rarely can a hearing loss be treated if it is from the inner ear. The inner ear is actually in the brain, so inner ear surgery is brain surgery. Having said this, researchers are working on a “vaccination” that can be given to reverse inner ear hearing loss.
Frequently Asked Questions
I went to a concert last night and my ears are still ringing. Will it stop?
The ringing is called tinnitus, Latin for ringing. Actually, tinnitus refers to any noise that are heard in the head, that do not come from the outside. Tinnitus comes in two flavors—objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is tinnitus that can be heard by other people. This is very rare, and is usually related to blood vessel problems in the ear. Subjective tinnitus is much more common and refers to the type of tinnitus that only the person can hear. But, to answer your question: You are probably suffering from TTS from the concert.
What is TTS? (Temporary threshold shift)
This is a fancy way of saying temporary hearing loss. After a loud concert or sporting event, your hearing is temporarily reduced. After about 16 to 18 hours, this resolves and your hearing should return to the level it was before (hopefully normal). Often the hearing is reduced, there is frequently tinnitus, which is especially noticed in quiet places such as when you are trying to sleep. The tinnitus and hearing loss (sometimes felt as a numbness in your ears) should completely resolve after 16 hours.
If my tinnitus goes away after 16 hours, is it safe to go to another concert after?
The short answer is “yes” and “no”. It is true that the ear recovers after about 16 hours and can take on new challenges of loud music, but TTS is a warning signal of being exposed to too much music. If you go to a concert or Friday night do not mow your lawn until Sunday. However, once you have a music related (or noise related) hearing loss, it is permanent, so do whatever it takes to prevent it. Certainly moderation is one idea. Enjoy that loud song, but when it is over, turn down the volume a bit to give your ears a rest.
What else can happen as my hearing gets worse?
Hearing loss comes with two other things that can be very annoying—or if you are a musician, career ending. They are pitch perception problems and permanent tinnitus. Pitch perception problems, as the name suggests, means that a person with a significant hearing loss may hear one note as another (and have limited understanding for speech). And can you imagine having a constant hum or whistle in your head day and night? This is what many people report with permanent tinnitus. So,…prevention of hearing loss is where it is at because YOUR EARS ROCK
I understand that rock music can be damaging to my hearing, but can Beethoven can be as bad for me?
Believe it or not, but Classical music—or specifically playing classical music –can be more damaging than rock music. Research has shown that about 30% of rock musicians have a hearing loss, and about 52% of classical musicians suffer from this problem. The main difference is that classical musicians rehearse, perform, and teach more hours each week than typical rock musicians. And classical musicians tend to be clustered closer together than rock musicians. So even though the peak sound levels in a rock band may be higher than in an orchestra, the total weekly dosage of a classical musician is greater.
Are there any other differences between classical musicians and rock musicians?
Although this next issue is highly variable, many classical musicians do not like their music as much as rock musicians do. T is this liking of the music that is partially responsible for the difference in susceptibility between rock and classical musicians. Research has shown that if you like the music, it is actually less damaging than if you do not like it. Classical or orchestral musicians may play the same piece of music countless times, and become bored with it. In addition, an orchestra musician has their music selected for them by a conductor or artistic director. They may not like the selected pieces. In contrast, a rock musician tends to play their own music—music that they love. This research has been replicated many different ways, always with similar results. So, go ahead and enjoy your music (in moderation and with practicing the four techniques for hearing loss prevention learned throughout the Your Ears Rock program).
Frequently Asked Questions
Let me get this straight, if I like my music, it is less damaging to my hearing?
That is correct. We are not sure exactly why that happens, however there are two theories. One is that when you are under stress, certain hormones are released in your inner ear that makes it more susceptible to hearing loss. A second theory is related to the fact that there are a series of feedback loops from the brain back to the inner ear. These feedback signals can change the susceptibility of the inner ear to damage. If the music is pleasurable, the feedback from the part of the brain corresponding to hearing, reduces the susceptibility.
What are the factors affecting hearing loss?
The two main factors are how intense the music or noise is, and how long one has been exposed to it. We know from research that prolonged exposure to 85 decibels (dB) or greater, over time will cause a permanent hearing loss.
A level of 85 dB is not particularly loud – a dial tone on a telephone is about that. Even though it is not loud, it is intense enough to be damaging, However it also depends on how long you are exposed to it. Research has found that the maximum exposure each week should be less that 85 dB for 40 hours.
This is identical to 88 dB for only 20 hours. That is, for each increase of 3 decibels (dB), you can only be exposed for half as long. Saying it differently, for every 3 decibel increase, your exposure doubles. Other less significant factors are your liking of the music, general health, and hereditary factors.
I listen to my personal entertainment device at about 50% volume. Is that level safe?
1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events. -World Health Organization (WHO)
- Data from studies in middle- and high-income countries analyzed by WHO indicate that among teenagers and young adults aged 12-35 years, nearly 50% are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices and around 40% are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues
- Your Ears Rock suggests the 60/60 rule whereby you listen to your headphones or earbuds for no more than 60 minutes per day at 60% volume output
I tried earplugs but sounded hollow. I cannot really hear the high-end. Are there better earplugs?
Due to the law of physics, earplugs lessen (attenuate) the sound energy for the higher pitches more than the lower bass notes. Typically earplugs will cause music to sound hollow without much high-end. In the late 1980s, a product came out with a “flat” earplug—one that lessens the sound energy for the high-pitched notes as much as for the low bass notes. These use a small acoustic amplifier that puts back many of the high-pitched sounds. Musicians and music listeners then can hear their music unaffected, except that it is at a less-damaging level.
I am a drummer and sometimes when I wear earplugs, my wrists hurt. What is happening here?
Many drummers use industrial strength earplugs, similar to those used in factories. These earplugs take off a lot of the sound of the high hat cymbal and rim shot of the drum. The drummer needs to hit harder in order to hear properly, with the result of wrist and arm damage. Using proper ear protection will resolve this. Drummers should be using enough ear protection to prevent hearing loss, and enough audibility of the music, so that they will not overplay.
I teach music in school. Is there anything I can do to improve the room with little to no budget?
There are several things you can do that are easy to accomplish and inexpensive. Incidentally, there is a fact sheet chapter 4.
- You can place the trumpet players on risers as this will allow the higher pitched harmonics of the trumpet to literally go over the heads of the other musicians “downwind”
- Put up drapes behind you in order to dampen the unwanted reflections.
- Get the art department to make some 3-D relief art that can be placed on the side walls. This will also help to lessen the unwanted reflections.
- Because music teachers are exposed to sound for significant amounts of time each week, wearing proper hearing protection should be strongly considered. Teachers are at risk of hearing loss and have successfully won cases with the Worker’s Compensation Board or other regulatory government agencies in the past.