by Kelly Steele courtesy the Windsor Star
Lisa Macari, doctor of audiology at the Hearing Wellness Centre in Tecumseh, said a lot of people don’t know the destructiveness of simple “leisure” noise.
“Simple things like listening to your iPod, radio or television too loudly can be damaging,” Macari said. “Also, the noise from a vacuum cleaner or dishwasher or even power tools over an extended period of time will increase the risk of hearing damage.”
May is National Speech and Hearing Awareness Month and audiologists are hoping to create a greater awareness about hearing loss. Statistics show one in four Canadians have hearing loss of some level.
The rule of thumb is anything over 80 decibels is going to put you at risk. To put that in perspective, a normal conversation would be about 60 decibels. A motorcycle is more than 100 decibels and some vacuum cleaners have been shown to hit more than 82 decibels.
Beverley Wolfe, audiologist with the Audiology Centre in Toronto, said studies have shown the noise coming from a high-powered leaf blower is as damaging as going to a loud concert.
“A lot of times when you leave a loud concert your ears are ringing or you have the muffled feeling for a couple hours,” Wolfe said. “Because your hearing gets better afterward, you figure no damage has been done.”
But studies have found loud rock concerts can cause damage within 15 minutes, and 81 per cent of concertgoers will have mini hearing loss when they leave. Once you hit 85 decibels it takes about eight hours for damage to become permanent, and over 90 decibels it takes only four hours to cause irreversible damage.
“Over the years there has been an increase in hearing loss,” Wolfe said. “It’s related to an increase in the area of leisure noise. The problem with noise is that people tend to be more tolerating of it than they should be. They know it’s doing damage to their ears yet they still tolerate it.”
Some warning signs of hearing loss include having to turn up the television or radio, speaking loudly, needing people to repeat words, struggling with background noise and ringing in the ears.
“Noise is a huge factor especially in this area since we have so many people working in the Big Three,” Macari said. “A lot of them don’t wear the proper hearing protection or, more importantly, don’t wear it correctly. Some people wear ear plugs but don’t shove them far enough in their ears.”
Hearing loss is not something that only seniors experience. With the new quality of ear phones, video games and even children’s toys, everyone is at risk. You should have your hearing tested at least every three years regardless of your age. The hearing test takes only 15 minutes and is completely painless.
“One of the biggest problems is we identify that someone is in need of a hearing aid and it’s usually seven years before they decide to get one,” Macari said. “The problem is the stigma that’s attached to hearing aids — people still view them as a sign of being old. By not getting the hearing aid you are actually causing more problems to your ears.”
The best advice both Macari and Wolfe can give is to be aware. If you can’t speak to the person next to you, chances are the noise is too loud and you need to wear some form of hearing protection.
“You need to protect your hearing as much as you can,” Wolfe said. “Hearing loss occurs at varying degrees of exposure and results most often after a lifetime of exposure.”
Tips for creating a quiet home
1. Set your TV, music and video games to the lowest volume at which they can be heard clearly.
2. If someone in the room has trouble hearing, consider turning on your television captioning rather than turning up volume.
3. Create ways to muffle the noise, such as closing door between family members and appliances that are in use.
4. Choose toys that are quiet or have volume controls.
5. Close windows and doors to protect against potentially harmful noises like leaf blowers, lawn mowers, power tools and sirens.
Three main ways to experience hearing loss
1. Being in places where you can’t control the noise, such as concerts and subways.
2. In-home appliances where you can’t control the noise such as vacuums, dishwashers, washer and dryer.
3. Exposing yourself to high noise levels when using head phones, listening to the radio or TV.
Three ways to control and know when to wear hearing protection
1. If it is so loud that you can’t hear the person beside you, you need to wear hearing protection. There are also apps for your phone that will tell you when you should be thinking about wearing hearing protection.
2. Turn down the volume so you can still hear someone talking to you a metre away.
3. Check the specs when buying new appliances. Many come with noise ratings, and some are up to four times quieter than they used to be.