Hearing loss: Could it be you?! Published Nov. 3, 2023 By Richard Fleming AEDC Safety ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- I remember an old story that goes something like this: The old man didn’t think his wife was hearing as well as she used to, and he wanted to figure how to help her. Not sure what to do, he called the family doctor to get advice. The doctor told him to try this test to get a better idea about her hearing loss. “Try this,” said the doctor. “Start about 40 feet away from her and, in a normal conversational speaking tone, see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response.” That afternoon, the wife is in the living room reading, and her husband was behind her. He says to himself, “I’m about 40 feet away, let’s see what happens.” Then in a normal tone he asks, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” No response. He tries again at about 30 feet, then 20 feet. Again, he gets no response. He moves to 10 feet away. “Honey, what’s for dinner?” Again, there is no response. So, he walks right up behind her. “Honey, what’s for dinner?” “For the FIFTH time, we are having TACOS!!” Like the old man in the story, when I am looking at you, reading lips and facial expressions, I have much better luck “hearing” what you have to say. “Are you like me where it seems the people around you are always whispering? Or maybe they just need to pronounce their words more clearly? Do you find yourself frequently asking people to repeat themselves? Could it be that you are losing your hearing? Both aging and being around loud noises can cause hearing loss. Other factors, such as too much earwax, can lower how well ears work for a time. Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses, and it is usually permanent. All around us at work, at home and at play, we are exposed to hearing risks. Twenty-two million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job each year. Thirty million are exposed to chemicals which can be hazardous to hearing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list these examples: Solvents (e.g., toluene, styrene, xylene, ethylbenzene and trichloroethylene) Metals and compounds (e.g., mercury compounds, lead and organic tin compounds) Asphyxiants (e.g., carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and its salts, and tobacco smoke) According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some symptoms of hearing loss: Muffling of speech and other sounds Trouble understanding words, especially when in a crowd or a noisy place Trouble hearing the letters of the alphabet that aren’t vowels Often asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio Staying clear of some social settings Being bothered by background noise Ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus Risk factors that damage or lead to loss of hearing include: Aging – the inner ear breaks down over time. Loud noise – this can damage the cells of the inner ear. Damage can add up over time or can come from a short blast of noise, such as from a gunshot. Heredity – your genes may make you more susceptible to ear damage. Noises on the job – exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and jet engines, snowmobiling, motorcycling, carpentry or listening to loud music. Some medicines – these can damage the inner ear. Very high doses of some pain relievers, antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics can cause short-term effects on hearing. These include ringing in the ears or hearing loss. Some illnesses – illnesses such a meningitis that cause high fever can harm the cochlea. Comparing loudness of common sounds The chart below lists common sounds and their decibel levels. A decibel is a unit used to measure how loud sound is. The CDC says noise above 70 decibels can, over time, start to damage hearing. The louder the noise, the less time it takes to cause lasting hearing damage. BELOW RISK RANGE 30 – Whisper 40 – Refrigerator 60 - Normal conversation 75 – Dishwasher AT RISK RANGE 85 – Heavy city traffic 95 – Motorcycle 100 – Snowmobile 110 – Chainsaw / Jackhammer / Rock concert / Symphony 120 – Ambulance siren / Thunder 140 to 150 – Firecrackers / Firearms Prevention is the key! The following steps can help prevent hearing loss from loud noises and keep hearing loss from getting worse: Protect your ears – Staying away from loud noise is the best protection. In the workplace, plastic earplugs or glycerin-filled earmuffs can help protect hearing. Have your hearing tested – If you work around a lot of noise, think about regular hearing tests. If you’ve lost some hearing, you can take steps to prevent further loss. Avoid risks from hobbies and play – Riding a snowmobile or a jet ski, hunting, using power tools or listening to rock concerts can damage hearing over time. Wearing hearing protection or taking breaks from the noise can protect your ears. Turning down the volume when listening to music helps, too. Fortunately, occupational hearing loss can nearly always be prevented. Health and safety professionals, employers and workers can all help prevent occupational hearing loss. Use hearing protection and limit time of exposure when possible. Be aware and proactive. Take care of each other.