June 27, 2014 at 11:51 PM
SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Every July 4th, Americans come together to celebrate the birth of our country with hot dogs, hamburgers, pool parties and then, to cap the day, beautiful but extremely loud fireworks.
Of the roughly 40 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, 10 million can be attributed to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to high-decibel sounds over an extended period. Damage occurs to the microscopic hair cells found inside the cochlea. These cells respond to mechanical sound vibrations by sending an electrical signal to the auditory nerve. Different groups of hair cells are responsible for different frequencies (rates of vibration). The healthy human ear can hear frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz. Over time, the hair-like stereocilia may become damaged or broken. If enough of them are damaged, hearing loss results. The high frequency area of the cochlea is often damaged by loud sounds.
Regardless of age, you’re at risk for inner ear damage from high-decibel explosions like fireworks. If you’ve already been diagnosed, or simply think you have some degree of hearing loss, you may be susceptible to further damage. Here are some tips for this Independence Day, and any time you are exposed to consistently loud sounds.
Hearing protection can be purchased extremely cheaply at any pharmacy. Ask for E-A-R plugs (the little yellow ones) or for wax ear plugs. Zounds Hearing in Westfield is also giving them away until the holiday.
Custom hearing protection is available with filters. Loud noise will be decreased, but people talking around you will still be clear.
If you wear hearing aids, you may want to turn them off, or take them out.
If the loud sounds are causing you discomfort or pain, cover your ears immediately and get indoors, or inside a car.
Use earplugs for infants and toddlers. Aside from protecting their ears, earplugs will help them enjoy the light show since they won’t be frightened by the loud explosions.
If you experience ringing in your ears or a temporary threshold shift (non-permanent hearing loss) that has not dissipated a few days later, see an ear, nose and throat specialist immediately to prevent permanent damage.
If you have a history of loud noise exposure and are experiencing difficulties hearing, make an appointment with your local audiologist so a baseline can be determined and to see if you can benefit from amplification.
Have a happy, safe and “sound” Independence Day.
Dr. Justin Lipp, Au.D., is an audiologist with Zounds Hearing in Westfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 908-288-7795.