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August Injury Prevention

Protection tips for hearing and ear safety


Hearing is one of the body systems that tend to function almost invisibly until it is lost. Losing one’s hearing can be due to a multitude of events, which includes situations such as chronic infections to being around loud sounds continuously without hearing protection.

Hearing is very important to your safety. Without it, important conversations are missed, and safety signals, warnings and sirens can go unnoticed.

Twenty-five percent of the population works in areas where noise is amplified due to equipment and manufacturing processes. Since the implementation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970, equipment and factory noise has been reduced but still exceeds the decibel level, or unit of measurement for intensity of sound, requiring hearing protection. Government requirements for the manufacturing of equipment used in industry has required sound reduction specifications for these processes in an effort to protect the employees, but not all noise can be removed due to the nature of the businesses.

Don’t be misled. Industry is not the only place where hearing can be injured.  In our everyday life, music, TV programs and recreational activities can also be injurious to hearing. Trauma to the auditory system can occur by attending loud concerts, working with loud lawn equipment or being near an explosion. Hearing loss generally occurs over an extended period of time and goes unnoticed until damage has occurred.

However, the single most frequent cause of hearing loss is age. As we get older, changes occur in the ear’s ability to perceive sounds, and in the brain to interpret the sounds correctly. This can be due to loss of hair cells in the ear that are needed to move sound through the auditory system for correct interpretation. If sound is not perceived correctly, the scenario resembles the “garbage in, garbage out” philosophy. Thus, hearing protection is needed.

Two kinds of hearing protection are available. Ear muffs form a seal around the external ear and reduce the sound level to which the ear is exposed. Ear plugs are easily inserted in the external ear canal to reduce or attenuate sound coming into the auditory system. Both forms of protection come in several designs depending on the circumstance requiring their wear. Overall, ear protection reduces the damage loud noises can cause while allowing communication.

A common misconception is that if you are wearing ear plugs, you are unable to hear anything.  When ear plugs are used properly, they only reduce the decibel level experienced. They do not eliminate all sound, which means conversation is still possible. Learning the proper ear plug insertion technique is key to maximizing the benefit of hearing protection. This may take some practice, but it is worth the effort to preserve your hearing. Ear plugs for personal, everyday use are available at most drug stores, making it easy to protect yourself whether in the home or at a loud concert. Remember, once hearing is lost, it generally does not come back.

Obviously, hearing is an important component to protecting ourselves from possible dangers and/or injuries in our environment. In addition to noise factors, illnesses, infections and age, the single most common cause of hearing loss is cerumen (ear wax) accumulation in the ear canal. If you experience a sudden decrease in hearing ability, contact your physician’s office for further instructions.

Protect your hearing by wearing hearing protection in the same manner that you would protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. A little forethought and caution go a long way in keeping you and your hearing safe.

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