Tuesday, August 1, 2023

As the heat cranks up, so do the sounds of summer. Whether you’re cheering at the ballpark, attending a music festival, or simply taking care of your lawn, the decibel level of the great outdoors can have  short-term and long-term effects on your hearing.

Audiologists Kellsie Busho and Danielle Kelsay from the University of Iowa Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders explain what activities put your hearing at greatest risk and provide suggestions to monitor and protect your hearing health.

Kellsie Busho
Kellsie Busho

Q: What are daily habits people can adopt to protect their hearing?

A: Be aware of the level of sounds in your daily life. Similar to how sunscreen can protect your skin, hearing protection and healthy hearing habits can help long term. Easy things people can do include turning down the volume on electronics, keeping hearing protection in an easily accessible spot, and walking away from loud sources of sound.

Q: When do you consider a sound to be too loud?

A: A general rule of thumb is if you can’t understand someone saying your name at arm’s length, the sound is too loud. Another way to determine if environments are too loud is downloading a sound level meter app on your phone. Many free apps can measure the environment and tell you if sounds are potentially damaging. They are not exact, but they give a general idea.

We measure sounds in decibels (dB). The louder the sound, the more dB. When we start to think about potential damage, the magic number is 85 dB. The louder the sound, the less time you should be exposed to that sound.

Q: Are earplugs an effective way to block out noise when attending a concert, sporting event, or mowing the lawn?

You will want to choose a type of hearing protection appropriate for the activity. 

Danielle Kelsay
Danielle Kelsay

For power tools, like a lawn mower, earmuffs that sit over the ears or ear plugs (think yellow foam) are appropriate. They reduce sounds to safer levels.

For concerts and sporting events and people who work in the service industry like restaurants and event venues, there are “filtered” earplugs. These reduce the sounds of the environment but keep the environment sounding more natural. Filtered plugs can either be non-custom or custom molded to fit specifically for your ears.

Q: Is our hearing health threatened more by the volume of sounds or the duration of exposure to loud sounds?

A: Hearing risk depends on both volume and duration. The louder the sound, the less time an individual can be in that environment before potential damage occurs. A little bit goes a long way, too. For example, for every increase of 3 dB, the amount of time safely allowed is cut in half. If the environment is 85 dB, most individuals can be safely exposed for eight hours, but if the sound increases to 88 dB, that safe time is reduced to four hours. 

Q: What are some signs of gradual hearing loss?

A: Most hearing loss is gradual and may not be apparent right away. Possible signs of hearing loss are asking someone to repeat what they said, tinnitus (hearing a ringing or buzzing sound without the presence of an external source), or turning up the volume on the TV or other device.

Q: How can audiologists help?

A: Audiologists are hearing health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of hearing disorders. You can partner with an audiologist to determine an appropriate type of hearing protection for your environments. Audiologists also can help establish your baseline hearing levels and monitor hearing abilities over time and, if needed, provide rehabilitation options, like hearing aids.