Simple strategies to preserve your hearing

Many activities we enjoy or perform while working are known to be dangerous to the organs of hearing. These organs are located in the inner ear (cochlea) and are easily damaged by exposure to noise of sufficient loudness and duration. Countless patients have been diagnosed with hearing loss that is most likely caused by exposure to noise.

Occupational hazards, such as construction work, factory machinery, power tools and the like are commonly noted. Recreational noise, such as motorcycles, tools, music, lawn mowing and firearms are also frequently implicated. These activities can damage a group of inner ear structures known as outer hair cells. When these cells are damaged or destroyed by noise, they impair our ability to hear soft sounds, particularly in the high frequency. Clarity is typically impaired, even when low pitch hearing is spared. Unfortunately, this is a permanent condition. Inner ear structures cannot be regenerated.

With intelligent use of hearing protection strategies, we can reduce the damage and preserve our hearing. Strategies include restructuring of the environment, limiting exposure time and the use of protective products.

Loud devices, such as power tools and musical instruments, should not be used in small spaces, where reverberations can multiply the sound produced. Move to a larger space with absorptive surfaces, such as curtains, drop ceilings or carpet when possible. Always limit headphone use with loud music.

Limiting the time spent in noisy areas will reduce risk as well. OSHA workplace regulations recognize that decreases in sound levels increase allowable exposure time. If a project requires noisy equipment, break up the time into segments, and give your ears a break.

Finally, there is no shortage of hearing protection products. These are often available in hardware, sporting goods and music shops. Plugs can be either custom-molded or generic. Remember to replace foam plugs after every use. Muff-style headsets are highly effective and can even be worn over plugs for maximum protection.

It is neither difficult nor expensive to protect your ears from the hazards of loud sounds and still be productive and enjoy music and other activities. Be wise and always allow us to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.