New York City’s residents are no strangers to the issue of noise pollution. For years we have seen the steady increase in decibels. Increased traffic, airplanes overhead, subways, buses, loud restaurants and clubs are all a part of the normal cacophony of the city. Research has shown that constant noise (even at a level that is not considered harmful to our ears) has the ability to negatively impact a child’s ability to learn, can increase blood pressure, cause stress, and can compromise a person’s long term general health and well being.
Hearing loss is truly the silent disorder. For most people it occurs very slowly over the course of a lifetime. So slow that we might not even realize it’s happening, and our brain acclimates to the new “normal” of impaired hearing. In most cases, 95% in fact, there is no medicine or surgery to help fix hearing loss. Hearing aids (now very sophisticated mini-computers) are the best option to assist the majority of the population with reduced hearing abilities.
When I talk to my patients about hearing loss, there are many contributing factors I encourage them to consider. Genetics play a significant role in how much hearing loss we will ultimately experience. Other issues that may cause hearing loss are: viruses, high fevers, certain medications, and chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Considering prevention plays a significant role in my practice, I always discuss the number one preventable cause of permanent hearing loss: loud noise and music exposure. When we are exposed to high levels of sound (occupational or recreational) for a long enough period of time we put ourselves at risk for permanent hearing loss. In the majority of noise exposure cases, we are completely in charge of our destiny. We just need the information to help us make an educated decision about what to do when we encounter those potentially dangerous sound exposures.
Mayor Bloomberg has been very active on the topic of noise in the Big Apple. In 2005, he signed a law overhauling the noise code. Today, with a $250,000 grant from the Fund for Public Health, the Mayor announced “The Hearing Loss Media Campaign” to target teens and young adults through focus groups and social media. The goal is to raise awareness about safe use of personal mp3 players.
The concern of increased hearing loss as a result of mp3 player use is not new. Health professionals and parents have been telling younger generations to turn down the volume since the introduction of amplified music. The Walkman escalated the conversation, and the mp3 player has taken the discussion to new heights. (FYI – About six years ago, I wrote a small guide hoping to share some of this information directly with those at highest risk. See The Simple Guide to Optimum Hearing Health for the mp3 Generation, 2006.)
The bottom line is that we need more accurate information funneling to those most at risk. Hopefully the Mayor’s Hearing Loss Media Campaign will truly make a dent in the universe and serve as a catalyst for increased awareness and action to prevent hearing loss in NYC and beyond.
In the meantime, here are some facts to consider:
- We are all at risk; no one is immune.
- 65% of those with hearing loss are under the age of 65. This is not only an “old age” phenomenon.
- A constant sound of 85 decibels serves as the threshold for when we should be concerned and start taking action to protect our ears.
- If you are in a dangerous sound environment, move away from the sound source. Distance from the sound source will reduce the sound level that enters your ears.
- If you cannot remove yourself from the environment, use hearing protection.
- The use of a sound level meter app on your smart phone will immediately tell you if you are in an environment that is too loud.
- If you use an mp3 player, consider using sound-isolating earphones. This will allow you to listen to your music at lower levels because you do not have to compete with noise in the environment.
- Have your hearing evaluated every year by a licensed audiologist.
- If you experience sudden hearing loss or ringing in the ears, see your hearing healthcare provider immediately.