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Hearing can be Permanently Damaged, Loyola Expert Warns

4th of July Fireworks, Marching Bands Some of the Summer Sounds that are Hard on the Ears

MELROSE PARK, Ill. - Summer can be really fun, but also quite noisy. And with 4th of July coming up, the fireworks can reach 150 decibels. While the pyrotechnic displays are exhilarating to watch, hearing experts hope you'll keep some hearing guidelines in mind.

“Fireworks, ‘el’ trains, concerts and road construction can be harmful to your hearing. And once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired,” said Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System.

One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal speech. Aging is the most common cause of this condition. However, exposure to excessive noise also can damage hearing in higher pitches.
“Hearing loss due to excessive noise is totally preventable, unlike old age or a medical condition,” Dr. Bhayani said.

Here are the registered levels for common sounds in Chicago, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery:

30 decibels - soft whisper
50 decibels - rain
60 decibels - normal conversation/computer typing
70 decibels - expressway traffic
85 decibels - earplugs recommended for prolonged exposure at this level
90 decibels - subway/”el” train, lawn mower, some shop tools
100 decibels - chainsaw, snowmobile, drill
110 decibels - power saw
115 decibels - loud rock concert, sandblasting, car horn
130 decibels - race car
150 decibels - fireworks/jet engine takeoff
170 decibels - shotgun

Music to my Ears, or Just Plain Noise?

“It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you,” said Dr. Bhayani, who regularly cares for construction and factory workers, frequent air travelers and seniors in her practice at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

“I recommend using hearing protection devices for those who are exposed to excessive, loud noises and musician’s earplugs, which simply attenuate the intensity and loudness without altering frequency response,” Dr. Bhayani said.

Loud Noise Permanently Kills Ear Nerve Endings

Three small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound vibrations to the inner ear, where they become nerve impulses that the brain interprets as sound.

“When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the hair cells and nerve endings in the inner ear,” Dr. Bhayani said. “The louder a noise, the longer the exposure, and the closer you are to the noise source, the more damaging it is to your nerve endings, or your hearing."

As the number of nerve endings decreases due to damage, so does your hearing. Nerve endings cannot be healed or regenerated and the damage is permanent, Dr. Bhayani said.

Ear Bud Warning

When youngsters use ear buds, it may save your own ears from the noise of their music. However, it also may be damaging your child’s hearing.
“Three in 5 Americans, especially youth, are prone to develop hearing loss due to loud music being delivered via ear buds,” Dr. Bhayani said.

Here are a few summertime tips from Dr. Bhayani:

  • Cover your ears: “Generic, over-the-counter earplugs are inexpensive and can be found at any drugstore,” Dr. Bhayani said. “However, they can be custom-made for comfort and durability. Buy earplugs now and keep them handy in wallets, backpacks, briefcases and purses so you can pop them in when noise is loud and continuous.” Dr. Bhayani also suggests using a scarf or even covering your ears with your hands to muffle sound.
  • Swimmer's ear and cotton swabs: “Swimmer’s ear is caused by painful membrane swelling due to trapped moisture in the outer ear,” Dr. Bhayani said. “Multicolor customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections.” After swimming, Dr. Bhayani recommends tilting the head to drain water from each ear and gently wiping the outer ear with a towel. Do not use cotton-tipped swabs to clean ears. “Swabs can actually push wax or harmful material farther into ears, and many people use them improperly or too forcefully, which can cause pain or damage."
  • The plane truth: Many air travelers complain about ear discomfort when the plane is taking off or landing. “Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum and sucking on hard candy also are effective in unplugging the ears,” Dr. Bhayani said. If yawning and swallowing are not effective, pinch the nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air, and direct the air into the back of the nose as if trying to blow the nose gently. This may have to be repeated several times during the plane's descent.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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