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by Beth Benites

On the tail end of the March Madness hype, people are shredding their brackets and sulking over the upsets.  The adrenaline pumping in the stands and on the bench of the arena, the smell of the hot dogs, popcorn, and beer, fans cheering and music blaring set the scene for one of the nation’s anticipated basketball tournaments of the year.  Unless it is something piercingly loud, the last thing on the minds of fans in the stands is that they are potentially damaging their health by simply being in that environment … hearing health that is!  Sporting events are known to get as loud as 120 dB – that’s as loud as a jet engine!

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common types of hearing loss.  Whether it is work-related or recreational, we are exposed to countless loud sounds in our everyday life.  It is important to remain conscious of and proactive against hearing health hazards.  It can take one loud sound or loud noises over time to permanently damage hearing.  This can happen suddenly or progressively. We must advocate to protect our hearing and prevent hearing loss when possible.

Why is our hearing so susceptible to noise? The inner ear or cochlea (think of this as the “hearing center” for your ear) is filled with outer hair cells – or nerve endings that transmit sound to the brain to be interpreted.  When a sound enters the cochlea, the outer hair cells corresponding to those frequencies essentially bend down and transmit the signal to the brain.  Shortly thereafter they morph back to their original shape or close to it.  When the nerve endings in the cochlea are permanently damaged, this causes a sensorineural hearing loss. This damage can be permanent or temporary (usually resolving within 24 – 48 hours).  For example, think of blades of grass… they bend when you walk on them and, most the time, eventually pop back up.  Overtime, they may not pop back up like they used to and are “damaged” from their original state.  Because of the shape and anatomy of the cochlea, this hearing loss usually affects the high frequencies first making the clarity of speech more difficult. In extreme cases, loud sounds can physically damage the middle ear.

A rule of thumb to determine sounds are too loud is that if you must raise your voice or shout over the noise to someone an arm’s length away for them to hear what you say, it is too loud and hearing protection ought to be utilized.  Hearing protection comes in many forms to fit a patient’s lifestyle whether it is earmuffs, foam plugs, or custom molds.

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