Concerts, fireworks, and other outdoor activities make Western New York a great place to be during the summer.
However, some fun events can be loud- and potentially damaging to your hearing.
“Anything over 85 decibels and you’re going to be in danger,” said Dr. Danielle Hartman, an audiologist with the Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center.
Noise exposure is a year-round concern, although people tend to think about it more during the summer months with construction, motorcycle riding, and outdoor recreation happening.
“We think about it more in the summertime because we’re out, but it’s all the time,” Hartman said. “You’re born with a certain amount of hair cells in your ear that are intended to help you hear at different frequencies- and over time, those hair cells can be damaged, short term or long term.”
Hartman likened the hair cells to seaweed in water.
“Seaweed can get waves for years and years and have no impact, eventually it pulls up and dies- that’s what longterm hearing loss is,” Hartman said. “Or, a tsunami comes and rips them right up- that’s noise exposure.”
Symptoms of noise exposure include ringing in the ears and temporary hearing loss for a couple of days until the hair cells straighten back up, Hartman said.
If everything sounds muffled or dull, or you realize that everyone is mumbling more than they used to, it could be a sign of hearing loss.
“If you’re hearing muffled or weaker than you usually are, it’s time to get a hearing test,” Hartman said. “If your ear is ringing and it gets softer or louder or changes pitch, you need to see your doctor and get a hearing test.”
A CDC study conducted in 2011 and 2012 found that between six to 24 percent of people in the U.S.- 10 to 40 million people- have hearing loss or signs of noise-related hearing loss.
You can protect your hearing during loud events like concerts by using soft foam earplugs- which are available at drugstores.
“They’re a great, quick choice,” Hartman said.
She also suggested using cotton or a tissue during loud events.
“It won’t hurt the quality of the sound, it will just help to protect what you’ve got,” she said.
For mowing the lawn or using other loud equipment, Hartman recommends using noise-canceling headphones, which can be found online or at hardware stores.
Work-related noise from jackhammers and ambulances can also be dangerous to hearing.
Hartman recommends plugging one ear at a time and alternating.
“If you have to stop the noise to have a conversation, it’s too loud,” Hartman said. “Protect your hearing when you can- I would like you to avoid seeing me for as long as possible.”