Hearing damage: Fact or fiction

Hearing damage: Fact or fiction

Life can get loud. Protecting our hearing is important, but not everyone considers the damage certain things may be causing.

Dr. Maeve Derrig, an audiologist with Aurora Health Care in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., dispels myths about hearing damage and offers tips for keeping your ears safe.

#1: Swimming underwater often leads to ear infections.

Fiction. Outer ear infections, or otitis externa, commonly referred to as “swimmer’s ear,” is not very common, having a lifetime prevalence of about 10%. They are caused by bacteria in the ear canal due to moisture or exposure to contaminated water. Some individuals, including children, are more susceptible to ear infections. Wearing swim plugs to keep water out of the ear can help.

#2: Consider wearing hearing protection when attending a concert or fireworks display.

Fact. Concerts can be extremely loud and can damage your hearing. Fireworks shows can also harm your hearing depending on how close you are to the “blasts.” On average, fireworks produce 150 decibels of noise. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, noise over 70 decibels over a prolonged time period can cause hearing damage, and sounds over 120 decibels can cause immediate harm. If you are safely setting off the fireworks or are in the vicinity of them being set off, you should wear hearing protection. If you are watching from a distance, use your best judgment. At the end of the day, it never hurts to protect your ears.

#3: Hearing damage only occurs from prolonged exposure to loud sounds.

Fiction. Damage can occur from one instance, such as a firework, or from prolonged exposure, like working in a factory. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) sets standards for the workplace on how much noise an employee can be exposed to during an eight-hour day and at what point a person must wear hearing protection. Always use hearing protection when you are in the presence of excessively loud noises such as lawn mowers, power tools, motor sports and gunshots. Just one exposure to a loud noise can permanently damage your hearing.

#4: Only newborns need their hearing screened.

Fiction. Babies have their hearing screened at birth, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children be screened at the pediatrician’s office at ages 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 years old, once between 11-14 years and once between 15-17. A child should see an audiologist for a formal hearing evaluation if:

  • Their speech and language is delayed
  • They fail a school or pediatrician screening
  • They have a history of ear infections
  • They report hearing issues to their parents

Adults 60 years of age and older should consider getting a baseline hearing test. Warning signs of hearing loss include:

  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble hearing in background noise
  • Feeling like people aren’t speaking clearly or mumbling
  • Having to ask people to repeat themselves often
  • Being told you watch the television too loudly

If you are concerned about you or your child’s hearing, speak with your primary care physician or their pediatrician, who may refer you to an audiologist.

Find a doctor in Illinois or Wisconsin

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  1. Maureen Ohalloran August 9, 2022 at 4:05 pm · Reply

    Maeve, Thank you for differentiating between fact and fiction when it comes to hearing. Important for all ages! Good to know.

  2. “Feeling like people aren’t speaking clearly or mumbling”

    I’ve had this problem over the past 2 years with masking.

  3. Useful information to learn, especially when you have kids to take care of. I had ringing in my ears constantly.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.