Hearing loss comes in many forms, but there are two major forms that affect most people. The first is called presbycusis, which is the hearing loss incurred from the normal process of aging. The other common form of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss, which is an acquired condition due to years of exposure to dangerous decibels.
As you know, the ears are exposed to sound from birth to death, and the simple addition of more years of sound exposure has an effect on the ability to hear. The tiny hair-like structures of the inner ear are designed to be sensitive to slight fluctuations in sound. However that sensitivity also makes them prone to damage. Those hairs that are used to detect high-frequency sound can become damaged with age and no longer pick up the vibrations that they pass along to the brain.
Some people work in loud places like factories where the sound of machines has a more profound damaging effect on hearing. However, noise damage can happen not only in the places we expect it, such as among musicians who spend time in loud venues and clubs, but as features of our everyday lives, as well. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the everyday sounds that can cross the threshold into damaging noise, particularly when they are heard for a long period of time.
The crucial threshold of volume when it comes to damaging our hearing is 85 decibels. As you know, the volume or loudness of sound is measured in decibels, and some quieter sounds can only be measured in a few decibels. For instance, the sound of a watch ticking is only 20 decibels. As we climb higher, the length of time a person is exposed to a sound has to do with the amount of damage it can do. Up to 85 decibels, the use of most household items is no cause for concern. However, we have many common household items that can cause hearing loss, particularly when they are used for a sustained period of time.
Take, for example, some cleaning and household appliances. A vacuum cleaner can be up to 85 decibels. This device is just fine to use for a short time, once a week for example. However, those who use vacuum cleaners as part of their jobs, such as hotel maintenance, should consider wearing hearing protection to limit the exposure to damaging noise.
Another common example is a lawn mower. Many lawn mowers can be rated at 90 decibels, meaning they should not be used for more than four hours at a time. However, some people whose jobs include landscaping or property management can be expected to use them for a full day. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has regulations against that type of work, but some employers can skirt their worker-protection laws.
If you or someone you know is engaged in an occupation with a high level of noise, particularly when it takes place for a long duration, you can begin by wearing your own hearing protection and proceed to contact authorities if you feel that your workplace is unsafe.
Some items are louder than these common household appliances, such as firearms, chainsaws, and heavy machinery. Each of these items should be treated on a case-by-case basis, but wearing noise-cancelling earmuffs is a wise course of action in any case.
One nearly invisible culprit that might surprise you is a pair of earbuds you might have laying around the house. These small devices are designed precisely to channel sound directly into your inner ear, and they are quite effective when you want to hear music or the sound of a video from your phone, computer, or media player. However, they should not be used at maximum volume, nor should they be worn for a long time. Earbuds can issue sounds well into the damaging range, so limit the time of use to a half hour at a time whenever possible.
With an awareness of these household items that can cause hearing damage, you should be able to avoid the threat they pose. Careful protection and limited times of use are the two keys to preserving your hearing ability far into the future. At Hearing Consultants, we provide custom hearing protection and comprehensive hearing health care. Contact us to learn more.