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Maintaining hearing health is crucial for your general well-being. Our sense of hearing is a major way we understand and move through the world as it facilitates absorbing, processing, and responding to information effectively. This allows us to participate in our favorite activities, engage in conversation, listen to music, and watch television with greater ease and comfort.
Hearing involves a complex process and any impairment to this process results in hearing loss that is permanent. Hearing loss is a common health concern that millions of people are navigating today. People of any age can experience impaired hearing and because so often it happens gradually, many people may not even be aware that their hearing has changed. Being informed about hearing health and effective ways to protect your hearing can prevent irreparable damage in addition to supporting your overall wellness.
Impact of Loud Noise on Hearing
There are various factors that contribute to hearing loss: family (genetic) history, medical conditions, and environmental factors. Environmental conditions such as consistent exposure to loud noise can impair your hearing. This can include:
- Operating loud machinery
- Regularly attending concerts and/or sporting events
- Wearing headphones and increasing the volume
- Working on or near construction sites, train stations, airports etc.
Working or socially being in noisy environments consistently can take a toll on your hearing and cause permanent damage.
Hearing requires the full function of the ears which consist of three main parts: outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. The outer ear absorbs sound from the environment which travels through the ear canal and lands on the ear drum causing it to vibrate. This pushes the sound further into the ear where it reaches the cochlea. The soundwaves cause the fluid and hair cells in the cochlea to vibrate and this helps translate the sound into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret and make meaning of.
Exposure to loud noise can disrupt this process in a variety of ways. One common way is by damaging the hair cells in the cochlea. The louder the sound, the stronger the vibration which causes the hair cells (and fluid) to move. Consistent and excessive movement can bend these hair cells and they can lose sensitivity. These hair cells do not regenerate, humans are born with all of the hair cells in the cochlea that they will ever have which means that damage to the is permanent. As explained previously, this impact the process of translating the soundwaves into electrical impulses for the brain to process which is how we make meaning from the sound we hear. In other words, it results in hearing loss which is treatable but not curable. Caring for your hearing and protecting the longevity of this vital sense is important!
Protecting Your Hearing
There are adjustments that you can make that will help protect your ears and minimize harm to your hearing. This includes the following:
1. Manage Exposure to Loud Noise
Have you ever noticed that after attending a loud event or leaving a noisy environment, you don’t hear as well? This usually lasts for just a short period of time and your hearing is fully restored. That is because your ears need to rest after being exposed to loud noise. The hair cells that continue to move and vibrate in response to soundwaves need time to restore. So, take breaks! Additionally, you can also manage the noise in your living environment by setting volumes on all devices to appropriate levels.
2. Wear Earplugs or Earmuffs
This is a simple and effective way to prevent damage to your hearing. Earplugs or earmuffs protect your ears by reducing the amount of sound that reaches your inner ear. Wearing earplugs during travel, at concerts, and sporting games is a great way to decrease the intake of background noise.
3. Noise Cancellation Headphones
Headphones and earbuds are extremely common devices that we use today. We recommend using headphones with noise cancellation features. This reduces environmental noise and prevents you from having to continuously increase the volume. They work effectively in quiet and loud environments.
4. Have Hearing Evaluated
It is important to have your hearing examined. A hearing test is a noninvasive process that will assess your ability to hear and determine if you are experiencing any hearing loss. Early detection of hearing impairment can prevent further damage and help you transition to better hearing with greater ease!