If the answer is yes to either question, you may be among the millions of people suffering from significant hearing loss.
Hearing appears to diminish in many people due to aging, yet it often goes unnoticed. Repeated exposure to loud noise over many years is known to impair hearing. Short bursts of loud noise usually only cause temporary hearing loss, buzzing or ringing in the ear that resolves spontaneously.
Some people aren’t even aware of how they withdraw from conversations or noisy environments because of their inability to differentiate between similar words like “joy” or “toy.” It creates a lot of frustration when you keep asking people to repeat themselves. You may actually miss some details of conversation that lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
Recent research has suggested a connection between hearing loss and dementia. Diminished hearing contributes to confusion and isolation of the person with the hearing impairment. However, it’s incorrect to assume that decreased hearing causes the dementia.
Hearing is a complex function requiring a mechanical component in the middle ear to translate impulses of sound waves into a digital form that’s ultimately transmitted to the brain, where sound is perceived and interpreted into a coherent message. The cochlea is the hearing center for converting to a digital signal that allows nerves to transmit to the brain.
This marvelous apparatus is working all the time with no vacation or rest. It is vulnerable to overuse, especially by regular exposure to loud noise. Some compare the effects of loud noise to walking on grass. When grass is walked on occasionally it demonstrates resilience. When there is too much traffic grass can be severely damaged.
Workplace standards to protect against loud noise exposure have been outlined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Any loud work environment should do baseline and periodic hearing tests of workers to assure hearing conservation.
At the heart of hearing loss is “prevention.” Formable medium density foam earplugs are common, inexpensive, and provide adequate protection for most people. Proper fit and consistent use in a high noise setting is extremely important to preserve hearing and avoid permanent hearing loss. Once damaged, the hearing function is usually permanently impaired.
The good news is you can easily protect your ears so the rest of your life will sound better.
Dr. Bruce Kaler, U.S. HealthWorks