The number one cause of hearing loss in Portland isn’t aging, as many believe; it’s actually noise exposure. Over the course of a lifetime, some damage to the sensory cells in your inner ear is inevitable. If you are frequently exposed to loud noise, hearing impairment can occur at a very young age – even children and teenagers may be affected. The key to preventing hearing damage resulting from noise is to take steps now to protect your ears.
How Noise Damages Hearing
About 15 percent of people in Portland aged 20 to 69 will develop noise-induced hearing loss. Sounds in excess of 85 decibels (dB) can permanently damage the hair cells of the cochlea; the louder the noise, the less safe exposure time you have. At 85 dB it takes about eight hours for hearing loss to occur; by the time you reach 100 dB, irreversible damage can happen in only 15 minutes.
High frequencies are usually the first to be affected. This is why many with hearing loss in Portland often have trouble understanding women’s and children’s voices at first. Hearing loss is a progressive condition; left untreated, it can cause a number of physical, psychological and social side effects. It is linked to delayed academic development in children, social isolation and withdrawal, stress, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, memory impairment, an increased risk of falls, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease.
Experts say between 30-50 million Americans are exposed to dangerous sound levels on a daily basis – including about half of all Portland teens and young adults aged 12 to 35. Personal audio players, earbuds and headphones are common sources for younger people, as are bars and nightclubs.
Taking Steps to Protect Against Hearing Loss
Once the sensory cells in your inner ear are damaged, there is no cure. The good news? Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable. Following a few safety tips will help keep your hearing intact. Your Portland audiologist recommends the following:
- Wear hearing protection anytime you are participating in noisy activities. These include concerts, sporting events, riding motorcycles and jet skis, etc. Disposable earplugs from your closest Fred Meyer or corner drugstore are fine; for even better protection, talk to your audiologist about custom earplugs made from silicone molds of your ear canals.
- Turn down the volume when listening to music. Set it no louder than 60 percent of maximum and take frequent breaks to give your ears a rest. Noise-cancelling headphones are a good investment if you listen to music for hours at a time on a regular basis; they block out external noise, allowing you to listen to music at a lower volume level.
- If you notice you are having trouble hearing certain frequencies and frequently must ask people to repeat themselves, schedule an appointment for a hearing exam with a Portland audiologist. Hearing loss often goes undiagnosed for a long time; the best way to ensure an effective treatment solution is early detection.