We are all exposed to noise on a daily basis. While the volume levels can vary, most easily exceed 85 decibels (dB) – the threshold that is considered safe. Any prolonged exposure to noise exceeding this is harmful and can cause permanent, irreversible hearing loss.
It may come as a surprise that exposure to excessive noise is not the only cause of hearing loss.
Diseases, drugs and injury may all contribute. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your hearing and help prevent hearing impairment.
Protection from Ototoxic Drugs
Some drugs cause damage to the sensory cells responsible for hearing. These include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, salicylate pain relievers (e.g., aspirin), quinine (for treating malaria) and diuretics. In order to reduce your odds of hearing loss when taking medications, only take medications as directed. If you experience symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus while taking new drugs, see your doctor immediately.
Preventing Ear Injuries
Head trauma can damage the temporal bones in the lower lateral walls of the skull, leading to hearing loss. To help prevent this type of injury, take the following precautions:
- Wear a seat belt at all times when in a car.
- Wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle, and participating in contact sports.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks, such as standing on the top rung of a ladder.
Protecting Your Hearing from Loud Noise
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss in the U.S. The good news? It is easily preventable. Follow these tips to protect your hearing:
- Wear hearing protection when exposed to loud noise.
- If you are regularly exposed to loud noise consider custom hearing protection. We offer a selection of custom earplugs and musician plugs.
- Turn down the volume.
- Limit the number of noisy appliances running at the same time.
- Buy quieter products. Many appliances list dB ratings in their specifications.
There are also some general steps you can take to protect your hearing. Refrain from inserting foreign objects in the ears; these can lead to impacted earwax, a perforated eardrum or damage to the skin. Cotton swabs and safety pins are notorious offenders. Use swim plugs when engaging in water activities and be sure to dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing. Seek prompt medical attention if you are suffering from an ear infection.
For most people who experience hearing loss, the condition comes on gradually over a period of years. In rare cases, an abrupt loss of hearing occurs with little or no warning. This condition, known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), is defined as a hearing reduction of 30 dB or greater over three contiguous frequencies, occurring over a period of 72 hours or less.
Ninety percent of cases result in unilateral (single-sided) hearing loss, which may be accompanied by dizziness or tinnitus.
The severity of the hearing loss varies. Some patients recover completely and without medical intervention in just a few days. Others find their symptoms improve gradually over a couple of weeks. Fifteen percent of those who experience sudden deafness will have hearing loss that worsens over time.
What Causes Sudden Deafness?
There are over 100 possible causes for SSHL. These include infectious diseases, head trauma, abnormal tissue growth, circulatory problems, neurologic disorders, toxic causes, immunologic diseases, inner ear problems such as Meniere’s disease and ototoxic medications.
Certain groups of antibiotics, in particular, have been shown to destroy the hair cells of the cochlea, causing sudden deafness that is often permanent in nature. These must be used with extreme caution and should be avoided unless they are the only viable course of treatment for a life-threatening illness. Be sure to question your physician or clinic thoroughly when antibiotics are prescribed.
Risk factors for SSHL include a prior diagnosis of meningitis, a recent head injury, ear infection, exposure to loud noise, a sudden change in pressure and starting a new medication.
What Are the Symptoms of Sudden Deafness?
Symptoms that often precede or accompany sudden deafness include:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Vertigo or dizziness.
- Fullness in the ear.
- A sudden loud “pop” in the ear, similar to what you’d experience with a change in pressure.
- Muffled hearing upon wakening or when trying to use the telephone.
How Is Sudden Deafness Treated?
If you experience any of these symptoms, see an otolaryngologist immediately. Doctors believe that prompt medical attention offers the best chances for a full recovery. Do not delay – your hearing depends upon it.
Treatment varies and will depend upon the cause (if known). Steroids, which reduce inflammation and swelling and aid the body in fighting illness, are the most common treatment method for sudden deafness.
Call Audiology Center Northwest at (503) 232-1845 for more information or to schedule an appointment.