It's so easy to take our hearing for granted. We listen to music, chat to our friends and tune into the latest football results, all without a second thought. What we don't always appreciate is that as we go about our daily activities, we could be jeopardising the very hearing that enables these pleasures.
Why should I protect my hearing?
Hearing loss is a problem that many of us will have to face at some point during our lifetime. It's often brought about by the damage to the small hair cells found within your inner ear, known as the cochlea. Ordinarily, these hairs transmit electrical impulses to the brain enabling us to register sound. When the hairs are damaged, this process can no longer happen. Certain medications can have an impact upon your hearing and so can a variety of illnesses, injury and old age. Often there's nothing that can be done to alter the decline. It's just a matter of making the most of what you've got left. There is however, one major cause of hearing loss that is preventable - excessive, prolonged exposure to loud noise. This can have a devastating effect on your hearing, as you get older. More importantly, once damaged it can't be reversed.
What are the warning signs?
Ringing in your ears - after a night out is an indication that your hearing has been subjected to dangerously high levels of sound. You have to learn to read the signals your body gives out.
Frequent or prolonged exposure to loud noise - can have devastating consequences and lead to hearing loss in later life. Excessive exposure to noise in excess of 85dB is viewed as hugely damaging to your hearing.
Short, sharp, loud noise - can be enough to damage the hair cells and trigger hearing loss. A loud explosion, fireworks or a gun shot at close range can all have an effect.
How to prevent noise induced hearing loss
Listen to music but keep the volume at a safe level. Earphones are often attributed to hearing loss in young people. Try using headphones instead. They offer a better sound at a lower volume and are less invasive for your ear. You should still be able to hear what is going on around you when listening to music. If it's uncomfortable, turn the volume down. Your body is trying to tell you something!
If you work in a noisy environment, make sure you wear ear protection. Earplugs and noise canceling earmuffs are essential pieces of kit in such a situation. Construction sites, factories and places where heavy machinery is being operated are all high-risk areas. Remember, it's not just your work environment that can be dangerous to your hearing. Operating the lawn mower, or drilling into your walls at home can also cause damage. Use ear protection.
Protect against excessive noise from live music - concerts and nightclubs are classic places where this can occur. Keep away from the speakers and give your ears a rest when you can. Wear earplugs in particularly loud situations, as this will help reduce the noise and protect your hearing. If you have to shout to your friend in order to have a conversation, then the noise levels are damagingly high.
Seek specialist help - if you suspect your hearing has been damaged. A licensed audiologist can conduct a series of tests to put your mind at rest and can help you deal with the consequences of hearing loss.