The Sounds of Summer Can Damage Your Hearing

by James T. Gibson

Summer NoiseAh, summer! The warm weather brings out swimsuits, picnic baskets and headsets. When you're out and about, you hear the sounds of summer. It's one of the noisiest seasons!

Frogs croak, crickets chirp and thunder booms. That's not all. Fireworks, lawn mowers, trains, leaf blowers, construction, sporting events and concerts sound off. These loud noises can harm hearing. Do your kids cover their ears at a fireworks show? Do they wear ear protection at the stadium?

When the noise levels make it hard to carry on a conversation, you or your family might suffer hearing damage.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal speech. Aging is one of the common causes of this condition. However, exposure to excessive noise can also damage hearing.

The damage from exposure to loud noises accumulates over time. Just think, if exposure starts in infancy, your child could live half their lives with hearing loss.

"Noise that's potentially dangerous to an adult is even more dangerous to a child," says Levi A. Reiter, head of the audiology program at Hofstra University. "Because a young child's ear canal is much smaller than an older child's or an adult's, the sound pressure entering the ear is greater. An infant might perceive a sound as 20 decibels louder than an older child or an adult."

"Hearing loss due to excessive noise is totally preventable," says Dr. Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

How Loud Is It?

Your first step to preventing damage is learning how sounds are measured. Decibels, like watts, amps or inches is how you can know how loud something is. See the examples below to get an idea:

30 decibels -- soft whisper
50 decibels -- rain
60 decibels -- normal conversation, typing
70 decibels -- expressway traffic

85 decibels -- earplugs recommended for prolonged exposure

90 decibels -- train, lawnmower, most power tools
100 decibels -- chainsaw, snowmobile, shop tools
110 decibels -- power saw
115 decibels -- loud rock concert, car horn
130 decibels -- race car
150 decibels -- fireworks, jet engine taking off
170 decibels -- shotgun

Summertime Ear Protection Tips

Cover your ears: If you're exposed to loud noises, Dr. Bhayani recommends using hearing protection. There's something for everyone, even your newborn. Inexpensive, over-the-counter earplugs can be found at any drugstore or sports center. Musician's earplugs lower the intensity/loudness without altering frequency response. Ear muffs fit even a toddler comfortably and protect from loud noises.

Buy earplugs now and keep them handy in your wallets, backpacks, briefcases and purses so you can pop them in whenever you happen on loud or continuous noise.

Prevent swimmer's ear: Painful membrane swelling traps moisture in the outer ear. After swimming tilt your child's head to drain water from each ear and gently wipe the outer ear with a towel.

If your child's prone to swimmer's ear, you can invest in a set of customized plugs.

Ease ear pain during travel: Do your ears hurt when the plane takes off or lands? Does driving over the pass bring on a stream of complaints?

Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum and sucking on hard candy can be helpful to unplug the ears. If yawning and swallowing doesn't work, have your child pinch the nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air, and shove the air into the back of the nose as if trying to blow the nose gently. Repeat several times during the plane's descent or as you come down the mountain pass.

Ear bud warning: That ear bud headset may save you from being assaulted by the noise of your child's music or electronic game, but it may be damaging your child's hearing. On some equipment you can set a maximum loudness level. If you not able to control that setting, monitor the volume on your kid's headsets.

While an adult can escape from uncomfortably loud noise, a toddler in your arms or buckled into a stroller can’t walk away. What steps do you take to protect your family's hearing?