You've only got two ears. If you damage your hearing, the two primary options you have are hearing aids, or hearing less or nothing at all. Given neither of those options are attractive, Dr. Matt Taylor, owner of Taylor Hearing Center, has three suggestions for protecting your hearing.
The first suggestion is to avoid loud sounds altogether. The second suggestion is to turn sound down or to move farther away from a loud sound. If neither is possible, Taylor suggests wearing hearing protection.
A good excuse to get away from your loud neighbor
The first recommendation seems obvious. Taylor says you should avoid loud noises. But, what exactly is a loud noise and how long is too long to be exposed to a loud noise.
"By the book, things that are 85 decibels and above constitute a loud noise and can be harmful to your hearing based on how long you're exposed to that noise," said Taylor. "Common things we're exposed to that can run loud enough to damage hearing include lawn mowers, mp3 players when you turn them up, fireworks and jet aircraft. Many industrial settings also have loud environments."
Often things we have around the house have the capacity to damage our hearing if we are exposed to them for long periods of time. Other yard care equipment such as weed eaters, leaf blowers and chainsaws can cause hearing damage. Many power tools used for home improvements also can become culprits in hearing loss.
"We've learned a lot over time how to protect our hearing," Taylor said. "Years ago, things weren't regulated as far as the workplace goes. Now, we have OSHA and they monitor the workplace pretty well."
Your mom was right
Most of us can remember the dread phrase "Turn that down, you'll go deaf," bellowed by an angry mother. Turns out, mom was right, according to Taylor.
"Turning the sound down on things like mp3 players is a way you can protect your hearing. If you're at a concert or some other loud event, move farther away from the sound," Taylor said. "I remember seeing a study years ago that stated children were getting hearing loss from toys that are loud. I can remember as a kid putting a toy right up to my ear. That's not a good idea."
The last resort, those funny looking ear muffs
"If you can't avoid loud noise then definitely wear hearing protection, wearing ear muffs or ear plugs, like when you're target shooting," Taylor said. "There are devices now that electronically close down the loud clap of sound from a firearm to attenuate the sound and protect the hearing. When that concussive blast is over, they open back up."
For people in a loud environment who are trying to block out sound with headphones or ear buds while they listen to music or other entertainment, noise cancelling headphones might help, according to Taylor.
"They won't protect your hearing per se, but if they attenuate that exterior sound well enough that it allows you to listen at a lower volume, that can be helpful," said Taylor. "There are good noise cancelling head phones out there and there are some that don't work quite so well. Then there are custom headsets that can be molded to an individual."
Hearing aids used to be large unsightly things that looked like some strange creature was trying to bore its way into your skull through your ear. Like with many other products, technology has essentially eliminated that problem. Taylor was wearing hearing aids during the interview and despite the reporter sitting less than three feet from Taylor, the reporter did not notice the hearings aids.
"If someone's excuse for not wearing hearing aids is that they're ugly, that excuse is no longer valid. I'm wearing hearing aids right now and you didn't notice them did you," Taylor said pulling one out of his ear to show the reporter. "They're very well made, they're invisible and they work very well."
While allowing a person to hear, hearing aids have benefits that extend beyond the patient.
"We get patients all the time who come in because their spouse complains the person with hearing loss turns the television up way too loud," said Taylor. "But, more than that, when you have hearing loss, you lose communication. A person with hearing loss gets tired of asking people to repeat things so they just don't ask and they become shut off because of the loss of communication and that's a terrible thing we never want to see happen."