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Protect your hearing while enjoying the sounds of summer

MAYWOOD, Ill. (June 17, 2014) - Summer sounds include much more than crickets chirping. Outdoor concerts, parades, Fourth of July fireworks, public transportation and construction sites all have one thing in common - high decibels of noise.

“Once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired,” said Dr. Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System. She has blunt advice about using headphones.

“Hearing aids have yet to become status symbols, so young people need to wise up and turn the volume down on their ear buds."

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 hearing loss due to old age or a medical condition,” Bhayani said.

Here are the registered levels for common sounds, 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 are recommended for prolonged exposure at this level

90 decibels - subway, lawn mower, 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

“It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you,” said Bhayani, who regularly cares for construction and factory workers, frequent air travelers and seniors 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/loudness without altering frequency response."

Loud noise destroys 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,” 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.

Ear bud warning

Use of ear bud headphones may save your ears from being assaulted by the noise of your teenagers’ music or electronic games, but it may be damaging your child’s hearing.

“About 3 in 5 Americans, especially youth, are prone to hearing loss due to loud music being delivered via ear buds,” Bhayani said.

Helpful hearing hints

Here are a few summertime tips:

  • Cover your ears: “Generic, over-the-counter earplugs are inexpensive and can be found at any drugstore,” 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.” Bhayani also suggested using a scarf or even covering your ears with your hands to muffle sound.
  • Swimmer's ear: “Swimmer’s ear is caused by painful membrane swelling due to trapped moisture in the outer ear,” Bhayani said. “Multicolor, customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections.” After swimming, Bhayani recommended tilting the head to drain water from each ear and gently wiping the outer ear with a towel.
  • Cotton swabs:  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 help to unplug the ears,”  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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Stasia Thompson
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