Did you know a typical hairdryer operates at around 85 dB, which is also the threshold at which hearing damage can occur?
OK, so a one-off use of a hairdryer won’t cause hearing loss, but regular use could. This is because we are born with a finite number of ‘hairs’ within the cochlea (the delicate hearing mechanism in the inner ear). These cells cannot repair or regrow so once they are gone – that’s it - and the damage is done. Repeated damage to these microscopic hairs causes them to die off and stop functioning. Thus, damage isn’t just caused by one-off loud noises, but also by regular exposure to sounds above a certain critical noise level.
The first frequencies to be lost associated with high pitched sounds, and as damage progresses next to suffer is the understanding of speech. Whilst it may occur to you to use ear defenders or plugs when operating heavy machinery, leaf-blowers, or when riding a motorbike, have you also considered wearing them when cutting the lawn, using a hairdryer or a kitchen blender? When otolaryngology experts such as Dr. Michael Seidman recommending we do exactly this, it’s no joke.
It’s important to realize that insults to the ear are cumulative. Exposure to loud noise in youth, such as listening to music via headphones with the volume turned up, kills of cochlea hairs that aren’t going to be replaced. As time passes, and more hairs die off, so you degree of hearing impairment rises. This accounts for why rock musicians or young people, who listen via headphones, are prone to early onset hearing loss in middle age.
So does this mean you should stop listening to music via headphones? No, but do it wisely. Earbuds have the potential to seal the ear canal, which amplifies the sound and the impact of the vibrations with potentially damaging effects. Experts advise avoiding tight fitting earbuds, but to use buds that are a looser fit, so that you don’t accidentally create dangerous air pressure peaks within the sealed ear canal.
Also, avoid cranking up the volume to overcome noisy or intrusive background noises. This compounds the problem by adding noise on top of noise and is highly undesirable. Instead, consider purchasing a pair of over-the-ear headphones with a noise cancelling facility. By lowering the level of extraneous noise it allows you to listen to music at a safe level.
It goes without saying that you should take care about the volume setting on your personal entertainment device. If other people can hear you are playing music, then the volume is too loud. As a rule of thumb, set a safe maximum volume in a quiet room, and then never go above this setting. Indeed, if you are a parent it helps to know that some headphones come with a maximum noise level, which is a great way to protect your youngster’s hearing.