Consider this before you turn up your headphones

Even weekly chores such as cutting the grass or trimming branches with electrical tools can cause permanent damage to your inner ear hair cells, which as a result can lead to detrimental hearing loss.

Turning up your headphones loud can seem like a fun way to tune out the world, but you should be mindful of your hearing.

Noise can cause inner ear hair cell damage, which can cause tinnitus.  Tinnitus is when an individual hears sound even though no actual sound is present.  This phantom sound can often be described as a ringing or humming in the ears.

“Inner ear hair cell damage is caused by both controllable and non-controllable environmental factors,” says Dr. Eric Hulse, an audiologist at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Research suggests tinnitus occurs because the brain is attempting to “fill in the gaps” where inner ear hair cell damage has occurred explains Dr. Hulse.  There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are treatment options to alleviate the symptoms.

According to a recent study published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, cognitive behavioral therapies could be offered as a treatment option to help those suffering from tinnitus.   The study analyzed 40 adults with tinnitus and 20 healthy-controlled participants.  Through a series of neuroimaging and cognitive assessments, it was found cognitive behavioral therapies that focus on the emotional and psychological responses to tinnitus could help individuals form coping strategies to better handle their symptoms.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sets standards that noise levels over 85 decibels (dB) can cause harm to hearing. A normal conversation is anywhere between 60 to 70 dB.

Aging and genetics are factors we can’t control, but we can manage how much noise exposure we encounter in our environments.

Dr. Hulse offers the following tips for individuals to protect their hearing:

  • Check your smartphone device to set your sound controls to a safe volume
  • To gauge your device’s volume, Dr. Hulse recommends not increasing the volume more than two-thirds of the device’s default volume control
  • Invest in noise-cancelling headphones, which can block street traffic and other environmental sounds
  • For yardwork activities, utilize both foam inserts with over-the-ear protection muffs
  • If attending a concert, there are custom ear plugs that can be created to fit your individual ear. For custom options like these, a visit to an audiologist is required, but are a great option for those who may be exposed to loud musical environments

“If you or a loved one is noticing difficulty communicating, hearing loss, or is experiencing symptoms of tinnitus, we encourage individuals to schedule an appointment with a licensed audiologist,” says Dr. Hulse.  An audiologist will be able to complete a comprehensive audiologic evaluation.

This is the first step to improve not only your hearing status, but quality of life.

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