According to Audiologist Dr. Jake Cavanaugh, who spoke to the Sulphur Rotary Club Wednesday, certain noises contribute to hearing loss.
“Hearing protection is that which is worn, and worn correctly,” Cavanaugh, a Sulphur High School graduate, said.
Cavanaugh said the hearing loss can occur when a person is exposed to noise 85 decibels or greater for 30 minutes or more, sudden impact noises like gunfire, or multiple noise sources on a daily basis. While local industrial sites are extremely noisy, the loudest industry is aviation.
For perspective, Cavanaugh ranked everyday noises. A whisper is 30 dB, normal conversation is 60 dB, alarm clocks are 80, a lawnmower is 90, and a jet plane is 120 dB.
The nerves in the ear that detect sound are hairlike projections in both the inner and outer ear. Exposure to loud noises causes the hairs to lay down and, if the exposure is frequent, the nerves remain flat and eventually break off, leading to hearing loss.
Cavanaugh highlighted two categories of hearing loss: noise-induced and Sudden Sensory Neural Hearing.
Noise-induced loss can result from one unique event or years of excessive exposure. The amount of loss varies from patient to patient and is often accompanied by Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
Sudden Sensory loss can result from impact noise, like a gunshot nearer the ear. Cavanaugh said this type of damage is common during hunting season, when someone fires a rifle out of a duck blind.
Loss is usually in one ear, but can be in both. SSNH can also be caused by a virus. Medication can help in some cases.
Cavanaugh said it is important to visit an audiologist if you experience a sudden decrease in hearing, if there is a “threshold shift of greater than 15 dB over two frequencies, or if you think you have a loss but are unsure.
Audiologists don’t prescribe medication, but do work closely with other medical professionals like ENTs to obtain the appropriate treatments, such as steroids.
Cavanaugh recommended keeping hearing protection near lawn equipment so it’s readily available. He said if it’s on hand, people are more likely to use it.
He outlined various types of hearing protection like plugs made from molds of a patient’s ear. There are some on the market with interchangeable filters, allowing the user to choose how much and what to hear. Cavanaugh said he uses those at sporting events to filter crowd noises but still let conversational noise in.
There are also plugs that connect with a phone app to provide white noise or other soothing sounds. He said these are ideal for those with spouses who snore.
Cavanaugh also noted that care should be taken by pregnant women. He said at 20 weeks gestation, there is some evidence that a baby’s hearing can be damaged.