shadabhsn at gmail.com
Sun Jun 15 01:07:00 EDT 2008
Ouch! That hurts
DR RAVI RAMALINGAM
Exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss. What can you do?
Can noise really hurt my ears?
Yes, noise can be dangerous. If it is loud enough and lasts long
enough, it can damage your hearing. Sensorineural hearing loss or
nerve loss can be caused
by several factors other than noise, but noise-induced hearing loss is
different in one important way. It can be reduced or prevented
Can I "toughen up" my ears?
No, if you think you have grown used to loud noise, it probably has
damaged your ears. There is no treatment, no medicine, no surgery, not
even a hearing
aid that can correct your hearing once it is damaged by noise.
How does the ear work?
The ear has three main parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear. The
outer ear (that you can see) opens into the ear canal. The eardrum
separates the ear
canal from the middle ear. Small bones in the middle ear help transfer
sound to the inner ear. The inner ear contains the auditory (hearing)
leads to the brain.
Any source of sound sends vibrations or sound waves into the air.
These funnel through the ear opening, down the ear canal, and strike
your eardrum, causing
it to vibrate. The vibrations are passed to the small bones of the
middle ear, which transmit them to the hearing nerve in the inner ear.
There, the vibrations
become nerve impulses and go directly to the brain, which interprets
the impulses as sound: music, a slamming door, a voice...
When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the nerve's endings in the
inner ear. As exposure to loud noise increases, more nerve endings are
the number of nerve endings decreases, so does your hearing. There is
no way to restore life to dead nerve endings; the damage is permanent.
How can I tell if a noise is dangerous?
People differ in their sensitivity to noise. As a general rule, noise
may damage your hearing if you have to shout over background noise to
heard; if it hurts your ears; if it makes your ears ring; or if you
are slightly deaf for several hours after exposure to the noise.
Is the length of time I hear a noise a danger to my hearing?
It certainly does. The longer you are exposed to a loud noise, the
more damaging it may be. Also, the closer you are to the source of
intense noise, the
more damaging it is.
Recent studies show an alarming increase in hearing loss in
youngsters. Evidence suggests that loud rock music along with
increased use of portable radios
with earphones may be responsible.
Can noise affect more than my hearing?
A ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, commonly occurs after noise
exposure, and it often becomes permanent. Some people react to loud
noise with anxiety
and irritability, an increase in pulse rate and blood pressure, or an
increase in stomach acid. Very loud noise can reduce efficiency in
tasks by diverting attention from the job.
Who should wear hearing protectors?
If you must work in an excessively noisy environment, you should wear
protectors. You should also wear them when you are using power tools,
noisy yard equipment,
How effective are hearing protectors?
Hearing protection devices decrease the intensity of sound that
reaches the eardrum. They come in two forms: earplugs and earmuffs.
Earplugs are small inserts
that fit into the outer ear canal. To be effective they must totally
block the ear canal with an airtight seal.
Earmuffs fit over the entire outer ear to form an air seal so the
circumference of the ear canal is blocked, and they are held in place
by an adjustable
Properly fitted earplugs or muffs reduce noise 15 to 30 dB.
Simultaneous use of earplugs and muffs usually adds 10 to 15 dB more
protection than either
used alone. Combined use should be considered when noise exceeds 105 dB.
Can I hear other people if I wear them?
Just as sunglasses help vision in very bright light, so do hearing
protectors enhance speech understanding in very noisy places. Hearing
protectors do slightly
reduce the ability of those with damaged hearing or poor comprehension
of language to understand normal conversation, However, it is
essential that persons
with impaired hearing wear earplugs or muffs to prevent further inner
What if my hearing is already damaged?
Hearing loss usually develops over a period of several years. Since it
is painless and gradual, you might not notice it. What you might
notice is a ringing
sound in your ear (called tinnitus), which could be the result of
long-term exposure to noise that has damaged the hearing nerve. Or,
you may have trouble
understanding what people say.
This could be the beginning of high-frequency hearing loss; a hearing
test will detect it.
These symptoms may also be nothing more than impacted wax or an ear
infection. However, it might be hearing loss from noise. In any case,
take no chances.
If you suspect a hearing loss, consult an ENT specialist.
The writer is an ENT Surgeon based in Chennai
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