Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, and one of the most common occupational illnesses in the United States. A single shot from a shotgun, experienced at close range, may permanently damage your hearing in an instant. Repeated exposures to loud machinery may, over an extended period of time, present serious risks to human hearing.
• Ten million Americans already suffer irreversible hearing damage from noise; thirty million are exposed to hazardous noise levels each day.
• The risk and harmful effects of noise on hearing are often underestimated because the damage takes place so gradually.
• If you work in an at-risk occupation, check with your employer to make sure that your jobsite has an effective program to adequately protect your hearing, meeting federal or state regulations.
• Wear hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, consistently when using loud equipment at work or at home. Foam earplugs are available at a pharmacy, earmuffs can be purchased at sporting goods or safety equipment stores, and specialized hearing protection is available from hearing clinics.
• Limit exposure to noisy activities at home. Monitor your listening level and how long you are listening to personal listening devices (like MP3 players, such as iPods). Encourage your children to use their headphones conservatively. Consider investing in higher quality earphones that block out background noise, to help moderate your listening levels in noisier places.
• Buy quieter products (compare dB ratings and ask for low-noise products).
• Keep an "eye" on your hearing – see a hearing health professional routinely for hearing testing, or if offered through your employer, ensure you know your hearing test results and track it year-to-year.
by Brian J. Fligor, Sc.D., Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, for www.betterhearing.org