October is National Protect Your Hearing month. More than 36 million Americans suffer from some type of hearing loss. Contrary to what many people think, this isn't an issue just for the older adult population: half of hearing loss sufferers in America are younger than 65.
Let's take a closer look at the causes of hearing loss and how to be proactive in protecting and preserving your hearing.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three types of hearing loss. Aging is the reason most of us think of first. Hearing loss can also be caused by illness. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the third type of hearing loss and it's on the rise in America. We are exposed to more noise than ever before.
This doesn't mean, though, that hearing loss is inevitable. Hearing care and examinations at a hearing clinic can help protect your hearing and prevent hearing loss due to excessive noise.
How We Hear
How do we hear? The outer part of our ear acts as a funnel, channeling sound waves into the ear canal. There, they vibrate the ear drum and pass through to the middle ear. Within the middle ear are the three smallest bones in the human body. These tiny bones are responsible for amplifying the sounds waves before they move to the inner ear. This part of the ear is related to balance.
The middle ear also contains microscopic hairs that, when vibrated, trigger the electrical impulses that are then sent to the brain from the auditory nerve, allowing us to hear.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss happens with prolonged exposure to noise levels at 85 decibels or higher. When the tiny hairs in our ear canal are exposed to this level of noise over time, these hairs can become damaged. This damage is permanent. You might be surprised to find out that many noise sources that we encounter in our daily lives measure higher than 85 decibels - the threshold at which noise levels start to become damaging to the ears.
Hair dryers and ambulances are two such examples. Music concerts and sporting events also have noise levels above 85db. Does this mean drying your hair occasionally or going to a few football games will lead to hearing loss? Not necessarily. It's important to talk to a trained and licensed audiologist and get a hearing assessment to make sure you're doing what you can to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
How an Audiologist Can Help
An audiologist is a state-licensed health care professional that holds a master's or doctorate degree from an accredited university. Audiologists don't just fit hearing aids or deal with a patients' hearing loss after the fact - though this is an important part of their work. Audiologists are also able to design and implement a plan for you to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the first place.
Take steps this October to better protect your hearing. Get to know your audiologist and schedule a hearing assessment. If you are someone who is regularly subject to excessive noise levels, an audiologist can work with you to prevent permanent hearing damage.