Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Just as autumn is a glorious time to throw open the windows and enjoy some fresh air, winter is a time to keep them closed and fight off the chill. But the home-baked smells and warmth of the season aren’t the only things we’ve trapped inside — so is the noise generated by daily living. And while many sounds are absorbed by the soft interiors of our homes — think curtains, furniture and carpeting — our hearing health depends on our ability to keep inside noises at acceptable levels this time of year.
What does noise have to do with my hearing health?
According to the National Institutes for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), as many as 24 percent of Americans under the age of 70 have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to a loud sound, such as an explosion, or prolonged exposure to sounds exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes to damage your hearing. Noise affects the delicate structures of the inner ear, most especially the stereocilia which are responsible for translating the sounds our ears collect into electrical impulses to send to the brain. Each hair cell is responsible for translating a specific frequency. Once these hair cells are damaged or die, they do not regenerate, meaning our ability to hear those frequencies is permanently altered.
Is my house really that noisy?
You might be surprised how loud daily household items can be. How loud is too loud? Basically, if you are unable to carry on a conversation with someone standing beside you, it’s an indication that the volume on the television or stereo is set too high or the appliance is too noisy.
According to Quiet Home Lab, even common household appliance decibel levels can be harmful to your hearing over time. Because hearing damage from excessive noise is cumulative, be aware of the decibel levels of your appliances. Here’s a good rule of thumb for some common appliances you may use on a daily basis:
- Vacuum cleaner: 60-85 dB
- Hair dryer: 60-95 dB
- Blender: 80-90 dB
- Washing machine: 50-75 dB
- Television audio: 70 dB
- Doorbell and telephone ring: 80 dB
- Garbage disposal: 70-95 dB
The next time you’re in the market for a new appliance, read the information carefully. Many manufacturers include decibel levels on newer models to help consumers choose accordingly.
How can I protect my hearing?
Although the damage noise inflicts upon your hearing is permanent, it’s good to know it’s also preventable. It’s never too late to begin protecting your sense of hearing.
- Turn down the volume, especially on the television, car radio and any other personal electronic devices you use on a daily basis.
- When it’s time to replace household appliances, look for those which operate at lower decibel levels.
- Invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones if you engage in a noisy hobby such as woodworking.
- If your home environment is still too noisy, purchase some foam earplugs online or at the local drugstore and wear them when you know you’ll be exposed to excessive noise.
Most importantly, schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional for an annual hearing evaluation. Ask for a referral from your family doctor or search our directory of hearing professionals to find one in your neighborhood.