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Can you hear me now? May is better speech and hearing month!

  • Published
  • By Maj. Courtney Harper
  • 6th Aerospace Medical Squadron
I am going to assume most of you reading this article did not know that May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. With this in mind, I am going to inform you about hearing loss, and more important, about hearing loss prevention.

I grew up with a profoundly deaf father. I remember how embarrassed I was of being seen with him wearing his big clunky hearing aid and how strange he sounded when he spoke. I am quite ashamed of how I once felt, but proud of how he led me to a career I love.

My father's hearing loss could not have been prevented. It was caused by strong antibiotics administered to him as an infant.

Most cases of hearing loss can be prevented. The most frequent cause of hearing loss is excessive noise.

Growing up with a hearing impaired father, I saw how much it impacted his and his family's life--that is why I view hearing loss as so important.

Let's look at what happens to our ears when exposed to noise:

There are little hair cells in the inner ear that get stimulated by sound waves. When the sound is too loud, these little hair cells get pushed over.

Sometimes the hair cells will pop back up after the exposure. One might experience muffled hearing and probably some ringing in the ears for a couple of days, but then the hearing is back to normal. After the hair cells have been pushed over multiple times, they no longer pop back up and the damage becomes permanent.

Permanent hearing loss can start with exposure to 85 decibels over an eight-hour period. You can cut the time in half for every five decibels increase in noise.

For example, a lawn mower generates 95 decibels of noise, a rock concert about 110 decibels, and an airplane at full throttle on the flight line is about a 140 decibels. If you do the math, permanent hearing loss can occur after two hours of lawn mowing, 15 minutes at a rock concert, and literally milliseconds on the flight line. This damage can be prevented by using hearing protection. Ear plugs or protective head phones should always be used when around hazardous noises such as power tools, weapons, movie theaters, music players, concerts and lawn mowers. One can achieve a 20-30 decibel reduction in noise by simply inserting earplugs.

Parents should emphasize the importance of hearing protection to their children early on because hearing loss is being recognized at much younger ages than it was 30 years ago. The volume on music players can be locked and earplugs should be worn at theme park shows, NASCAR events and movies.

Remember the 3-foot rule. If you can't hear a conversational voice from 3 feet away, then the environment you are in is too noisy and you need hearing protection.

My final thought on the matter of hearing protection is another personal story. My husband would give me funny looks when I pulled out earplugs when we would go out on dates to loud bars or concerts. Almost eight years later, he now puts his hand out for earplugs when we are going to be somewhere noisy. It is so simple to use hearing protection and prevent hearing loss, yet not enough people are aware of the damage they are doing to their ears.

By the time you realize you have hearing loss, you are missing out on some of the joys of life, like listening to music and enjoying conversations in groups. Even the best hearing aids cannot give you back what you once had. Protect your ears!