Updated: Dec 11, 2018
I have added a photo of the night of my wedding. That's me and my husband sharing the dance-floor with about 90 of our family and friends plus an amazing live (loud) band. We danced for about 3 hours and we worked up a sweat. It really was an incredible night. I am posting this photo because I am sure we have all had one or two nights like this, right? No not the marriage part, we'll only do this once, but the dancing the night away part!
There are 3 categories of hearing loss, including conductive hearing loss, sensorineaural (permanent) hearing loss and a mix of both these types. In this post I will talk about permanent hearing loss, in particular, noise induced hearing loss and healthy ageing.
The reason I posted this photo of our wedding night is because I wanted to relate it back to noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) and how noise can damage the delicate hair cells in our hearing organ resulting in permanent hearing loss. There are a few articles out there publishing "Noise is the new secondhand smoke". The World Health Organisation (WHO) have worked with the European Union to publish recommendations on how to manage and reduce noise exposure, specifically within EU countries. As more and more research is done into the effects of instant and long term noise exposure, we are understanding how noise can be damaging to not only our hearing organ, but our quality of sleep, heart rate and life. NIHL is a big deal, but why don't we know more about it?
Noise Induced Hearing Loss is a big deal, but why don't we know more about it?
Noise is invisible. We can't see the immediate affects of noise so we don't think of it as damaging. Unless noise is instantly damaging we don't really think about it. Sometimes after a big event our ears may ring, but we can cope with this if it is temporary. This ringing is a sign of temporary changes to your hearing levels and as we expose ourselves to more noise over time, we increase the chances of permanent hearing loss. I hope to change your view on noise and encourage preventative and protective measures so that you are aware of noise and the long term implications of not being proactive towards protecting your hearing. We live in a time where there is a high chance many of us will live longer lives and we want to ensure we enjoy life's moments and think about healthy ageing so we can set ourselves up for the best quality of life.
We all live in the same noisy world and will be exposed to different levels of noise throughout our day. In our leisure time some of us will go to loud gym classes, listen to loud music when training, nightclubs, festivals, concerts, the movies or a live gig. We may take short or long haul flights and trains or we may work in a noisy environment, for example call centres, car mechanic work shop or on a mine site. All these areas will expose our bodies and ears to loud levels of noise. The more we are in these environments, the more noise exposure we will accumulate. Unless it's an instant and very loud noise, for example firing a gun in close proximity to your head (instantly damaging levels of noise are measured and classified as >120dBA), NIHL is accumulative. This means over time as we repeatedly listen to music through our headphones at a loud volume to drown out the background noise or we work in a loud environment for a few hours, we are increasing our risk of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is termed acquired NIHL hearing loss and it's permanent.
The good news is we can proactively mitigate noise exposure. We can check the volume we are choosing and use hearing protection to reduce the amount of noise we are exposed to. I understand that some of our jobs will require some level of noise exposure and this makes it even more important to ensure good hearing protection and practice is employed. We can remove ourselves from the noisy environment or take breaks away from noise. Additionally, we can have a few quiet hours after noise exposure to allow our ears to recover.
We need to be aware of the noise around us and manage it. Think about noise like a dripping tap. Initially we may not be worried about it, but over time if we don't do something about the drip the chances are it will get worse.
The more we practice hearing protection, the more it becomes a natural behaviour. It's like applying sunscreen. We are taught to slip, slop, slap and cover up from sun exposure from a young age and know we should use sunscreen to protect our skin from UVA and UVB exposure when we go outside. When we forget to apply sunscreen, we feel bad about it because we know the risks associated with sun exposure. This is how I want people to think about noise exposure. I want all of us to be proactive about using hearing protection and ensure we encourage everyone around us to do the same when going into noisy environments. I want people to know and understand the risks of repeated noise exposure and I want them to put themselves in the best position to protect their hearing.
As we age our bodies change and systems don't work as they did when we were in our twenty's. Our skin loses its elasticity and we gain wrinkles, our eye sight changes over time (usually for the worse), our dexterity stiffens and we begin to lose some sensation in our fingers and toes. It's the same for our hearing. Age related hearing loss is known as presbycusis and this can start to show, depending on genetics, occupation, work environment, life style and health, around the age of 50-55 years, maybe earlier. When I speak to doctors, allied health professionals and my family and friends about hearing loss I advise they send people in for a hearing test from 50-55 years of age. This way we have a base line hearing test to track any changes over time. If the hearing results are within the normal range and there are low risk factors for hearing loss, then I usually recommend the next hearing test either in 5 years or at the 65 year checkup or if the client feels changes in their hearing happens earlier.
The reality is people come into a hearing clinic when their hearing loss gets too hard to cope with and usually a family member has pushed them into an appointment. Usually the expectations are that the hearing health care professional can fix the hearing loss and change the behaviours. Typically, at this stage it becomes harder to adopt hearing aids and take on advice from a hearing health care professional as the person with hearing loss may be older and have adapted to their hearing loss. Changing behaviours is harder than choosing to withdraw from social situations and connecting with people.
There is growing research showing the effects of untreated hearing loss on social isolation, depression, increased chances of fall and cognitive decline. I won't go into too much detail of the causation between hearing loss and cognitive decline/dementia or Alzheimer's, you can follow the link here to read about it or shoot me an email to discuss your concerns further. The major point I want people to take home is that, the earlier you adopt hearing technologies, the better the outcomes you will have for using more technologies, such as hearing aids, later in life. Your family and brain will thank you for it. I know a handful of 30-40 year olds use their hearing aids regularly and do really well with them.
"...the earlier you adopt hearing technologies the better the outcomes you will for have using more technologies, such as hearing aids, later in life. Your family and brain will thank you for it."
A balancing act to healthy ageing
Life's a balancing act. We've got to experience the lows to appreciate the highs. We've got to have rain to see the rainbow, we've got to have pain to see gains and so on. This mantra can be applied with how we age through life. Everything in moderation with a touch more of the good stuff to ensure that when we are 75 years or older, that we can stay in our homes longer and be independent healthy, older adults.
Back to my wedding photo and the points about noise exposure and protection; what I'm saying is go out and have fun. Enjoy those concerts and movies because we need to create and share memories in life to make it rich. Just be mindful that when you are in a situation where you can protect your hearing you should do so. Don't wait until it is too late and you can't join or follow the conversation or movies. Put yourself in the best position to healthy ageing. Once you acquire NIHL you can't reverse it. There still isn't a cure for it, yet.