Tag Archive: ear health

Modern life is damaging our ears more than we realize

Photo credit: Global Jet

Rebecca S. Dewey, a research Fellow in Neuroimaging writing for The Conversation, addresses noise exposure, “the main cause of preventable hearing loss worldwide.” She cites a recently published study in The Lancet that “revealed that living in a noisy city increases your risk of hearing damage by 64%.” Why do cities increase the risk so dramatically? Dewey points to obvious sources–work noise at a construction site or recreational noise at a nightclub–but adds that people “might be exposed to loud noises so constantly throughout the day that you don’t even realise they are there.” She also notes that many of us engage in “self-harm”–that is, exposing ourselves via mp3 players and mobile phones to damaging noise levels “with little more than a disclaimer from the manufacturers.”

Why is this a concern? Because of strides researchers have made about how hearing loss develops, aided by the relatively recent discovery of “hidden hearing loss.” Dewey states that it used to be believed that “noise-induced hearing loss resulted from damage to the sound-sensing cells in the cochlea,” but recent studies have shown that “even relatively moderate amounts of noise exposure can cause damage to the auditory nerve – the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain.”

Unfortunately, the standard audiology exam “measures hearing by finding the quietest sound a person can hear in a quiet environment,” but hidden hearing loss affects “the ability to hear subtle changes in loud sounds,” what is called “supra-threshold.” Supra-threshold hearing is used to “understand conversations in a noisy room or hear someone talk over the sound of a blaring television.” In short, a traditional hearing test can’t detect hidden hearing loss, and attempts to measure it by playing a recording of speech masked with background noise “depends a lot on the ability of the patient to understand and cooperate with the test.”

Fortunately, Dewey works on a team at University of Nottingham that is developing an objective test using MRI scans that will “detect hidden hearing loss by scanning the parts of the hearing system that connect the ears to the brain.” The goal is to “understand who is most at risk and act early to prevent further hearing loss.”

And prevention is key, because there currently is no treatment or cure for hidden hearing loss. So do yourself a favor and avoid loud noise when you can, use earplugs when you cannot, and lower the volume on your personal audio devices. One day there will likely be a good treatment available for hearing loss, but no one knows if that day is five, ten, 20, or more years away. Why gamble on a future cure when prevention works today?

Is nothing safe?

They look so innocent…

Experts Warn Popping Balloons Can Lead To Permanent Hearing Loss. Arrianne Del Rosario, Tech Times, writes about an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta “to find out how noise from bursting balloons can impact hearing,” and the results were stunning.  The researchers “measured the noise levels from popping balloons in three different ways: poking them with a pin, blowing them with air until they burst, and crushing them until they exploded.”  The loudest bang came from blowing up a balloon with air until it popped.  When it did, it was recorded at almost 168 decibels, “4 decibels louder than a high-powered, 12-gauge shotgun.”

It can’t be that bad, it’s just a balloon, right?  Wrong.  Del Rosario notes that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that “the maximum impulse level should never go beyond 140 decibels.”  She adds that “[c]onstant exposure to noise, even as low as 85 decibels — for example, the noise from cars honking their horns in a city traffic — can make a person vulnerable to hearing loss.”

Del Rosario is right that damage to hearing can occur well under 140 decibles, but wrong to imply that damage only occurs at 85 decibels or higher.  85 decibels is the industrial-strength occupational noise exposure standard. Auditory damage can begin at only 75-78 decibels.  The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level is the EPA’s 70 decibel time weighted average for 24 hours.  Cautions noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, “If it sounds too loud, it is too loud.  Hearing is an important social sense, and once cochlear hair cells and auditory synaptic junctions are damaged, they are gone forever.”

Whatever the decibel reading, the problem is that each exposure to loud noise leaves a mark.  As one of the researchers, Bill Hodgetts, advised:

Hearing loss is insidious — every loud noise that occurs has a potential lifelong impact. We want people to be mindful of hearing damage over a lifetime, because once you get to the back end of life, no hearing aid is as good as the once healthy built-in system in your inner ear.

Anemic? See your doctor and get your iron tablets, stat:

Iron Deficiency Anemia Tied to Hearing Loss.  Iron deficiency anemia should be relatively easy to manage. So see your doctor, get a blood test, and manage your anemia.

That said, Dr. Daniel Fink, a leading noise activist, cautions that the study appears to be a preliminary one. The study reviewed data from approximately 300,000 deidentified adult patient records at Milton K. Hershey Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The diagnosis of hearing loss was made by mention of one or more diagnostic codes for hearing loss on at least one encounter. The diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia was made from laboratory tests. Then statistical analyses were performed. No audiometric tests were done, and the prevalence of hearing loss was much lower than that reported in other studies.  Dr. Fink thinks this report might help guide future research, but the fact remains that noise exposure, not iron deficiency anemia, is the major cause of hearing loss in the United States.

Age doesn’t matter,

you could have hidden hearing loss (and not know it). WMAR Baltimore reports on hidden hearing loss, a relatively recently discovered hearing breakthrough that explains how people who pass hearing tests have problems hearing in noisy environments.  WMAR interviewed audiologists about this breakthrough, who said that “why patients can’t decipher speech in noisy situations has been unexplained, but a new breakthrough is changing that.”  The researchers who made the hidden hearing loss breakthrough studied young adults who were regularly overexposed to loud sounds, and found that “hidden hearing loss is associated with a deep disorder in the auditory system.”

It’s never too late to protect the hearing you have.  Exposure to loud sounds damages hearing.  Period.

 

What’s nature’s remedy for blocking noise?

Trees. Dean Fosdick, Associated Press, writes that “landscape designers in cities are creating quieter living spaces by using trees to mute loud noises like sirens and air brakes.”  The practice is called “‘soundscaping,’ and it aims to restore peaceful, natural sounds like wind whispering through leaves, birds chirping or rain dripping from branches.”  Click the link to learn more.

Thinking about downloading a sound measurement app?

Read this National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) review first:  So How Accurate Are These Smartphone Sound Measurement Apps?

Scroll to the end of the blog post for a November 2016 update to NIOSH’s initial 2013 study.

What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?

Dr. Daniel Fink, Founding Board Chair of The Quiet Coalition, explains that there are three safe noise levels, depending on which adverse impact of noise you want to avoid. It’s much lower than you think.  Click here to learn more!

 

OSHA announces hearing-protection technology contest winners

lightbulb_innovation

Four inventors have been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration for their innovations in developing technology intended to combat work-related hearing loss.  The winning designs include a custom-fitted earpiece that offered workers protection, wearable sensor technology that detects noise levels, and an interchangeable decorative piece that attaches to silicone earplugs.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

Top Democratic representative seeks study on effects of airplane cabin noise,

man-in-airplane-cabin

expresses concern about the long-term effects of airplane cabin noise on flight crews.  The Hill reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office raising concern “regarding permanent hearing loss and damage that airline personnel may suffer from by being exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.”  Representative DeFazio “expressed frustration over the lack of comprehensive data about cabin noise levels even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established noise decibel limits.”  To encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act on his request, The Hill reports that DeFazio “hinted that the results of the study may influence the next long-term reauthorization of the FAA, as the agency’s current legal authority expires next September, and urged “prompt and expedited completion” of the requested report.”

We will follow this story as well as others focusing on citizen complaints about the FAA’s NextGen program.  It looks like some accountability may finally be in the offing.

 

Why is Big Pharm focusing on new treatments for hearing loss and other auditory disorders?

Because they smell money, of course.  And because they sniff a potentially big money-making opportunity, the pharmaceutical industry is racing to find treatments for a host of auditory disorders.  It’s a shame there’s no money in prevention, because noise-induced hearing loss and most cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis are 100% preventable.  So if you don’t have hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis yet, save yourself some cash and limit your exposure to noise now.  Or try your luck and hope that at least one pharmaceutical company finds a cure before you experience symptoms.