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March 3 honors World Hearing Day: The science of sound protection

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This animated video from the NIDCD illustrates how sounds travel from the ear to the brain, where they are interpreted and understood.

(WLNS) – Around 466 million people live with hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization.

Yearly, unaddressed hearing loss costs an estimated $750 billion worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.

World Hearing Day 2020 is on March 3rd and this year’s theme is, “hearing for life: don’t let hearing loss limit you,” according to WHO.

People of all ages can develop hearing loss from noise and because damage from noise exposure is often gradual, you might not notice it or may ignore the signs of hearing loss until it is too late.

Hearing screenings are a quick and cost-effective way to determine if someone is experiencing a hearing problem.

Sounds can be harmful when they are very loud, just two minutes of exposure to sounds at or above 110 dBA can damage your hearing. For comparison, a whisper is 30 dBA and normal conversational speech is about 60-70 dBA.

Sound is more likely to damage your hearing if it is at 85 dBA and you are exposed to it for at least 8 hours or 100 dBA and you are exposed to it for at least 14 minutes.

Many factors influence how loud a sound seems, including how long it lasts, the sound’s frequencies (or pitches), and the environment in which you hear the sound.

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). An increase of 10 dB seems about twice as loud to your ears, but it’s actually 10 times more intense, or powerful.

Noise can damage tiny sensory hair cells within the cochlea—the small, snail-shaped organ for hearing in the inner ear, according to Noisy Planet, a science-based program developed by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The program is part of a national public education campaign is designed to increase awareness among parents of children ages 8 to 12 about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.

Damaged hair cells can’t send accurate information about sound to your brain. Some damaged hair cells can’t respond to sound at all. People can’t grow new hair cells, so if the damage is so severe that the hair cells die, the hearing loss is permanent.

Moving away from noise or lowering volume are simple ways to avoid loud sounds, but earplugs or protective earmuffs are also available when you can’t easily avoid the noise or control the volume.

A 2016 study showed 42 percent of the participants who did not use earplugs at a concert experienced some hearing loss.

According to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 8% of US adults say that they regularly wear hearing protectors at loud athletic and entertainment events.

Tinnitus, or ringing in your ears that can be caused by exposure to loud noise, was found in 12 percent of the participants who wore earplugs, versus 40 percent of the participants who did not use earplugs.

Using earplugs correctly can be trickier than you might think. If you don’t insert them properly, they won’t protect your hearing as much as they could—and perhaps not at all.

For properly using “formable earplugs,” check out the following video from the National Institutes of Health.

On March 3rd, the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health want to encourage your family to make healthy hearing a habit by practicing safe listening to prevent hearing loss from noises for a lifetime.

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