Can you be seriously injured and not even know it? Yes, by getting an earful of daily city living. And that doesnt include some of the super-loud music you hear through your IPod. The trouble is, the ear can take a lot of punishment and damage without warning you through pain. It just doesnt complain out loud.
Hearing loss is an acute problem for the 30 million Americans the Federal Government says are subject to too much noise. But they, and the rest of us, can take steps to minimize the sounds of mayhem.
Most loud city and industrial sounds cause their damage gradually over long spells. Even modern conveniences such as electric razors, vacuum cleaners, food processors, and the like can, in time, seriously affect a persons hearing.
Hearing involves delicate mechanisms. The outer ear focuses sound vibrations into the eardrum, which vibrates and transfers the vibrations to tiny bones in the middle ear. These bones translate the sound vibration into mechanical vibrations that are transmitted directly to the inner ear. Excessive sound does its damage to the inner-ear mechanism.
We measure sound in decibels, with zero being the point at which hearing begins. The decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning that every 10-decibel increase is perceived as being twice as loud. We hear normal breathing, for example, at 10 decibels. Normal conversation begins at 60 decibels, about twice as loud as the sound of moderate rainfall. Above that, says the Environmental Protection Agency, sound can be harmful to hearing.
A vacuum cleaner registers 75 decibels, heavy traffic 80, a power lawn mower 100, amplified rock music 120. The rock music, so pleasant to some ears, is twice as loud as a chain saw, sixteen times as loud as normal conversation. Dangerous? A test of a thousand college freshmen found that more than 60 percent had lost their hearing in the high-frequency range. The same holds true for any of us who turn the volume up on our IPods. Also, adults who work in noisy places should wear soft-foam ear plugs or even earmuffs to muffle industrial sounds around them. Rolling up the window in the car keeps heavy traffic noises out. Interestingly, as much as as 50 percent of the noise level in our homes can be cut. Radio and television might be kept in a room that is made sound-resistant with acoustical tiles and other insulation. Put rubber mats under appliances and use them only one at a time. Outside noises can be kept outside by weather-stripping windows and using solid or filled doors rather than hollow ones. Carpeting and drapes also help to absorb unwanted noise. There are indications that sound hurts us in many ways other than physical. Studies have shown that chronic exposure to heightened sound levels raises blood pressure, induces or irritates ulcers, and produces fatigue and irritability. So pay attention to the noise around you. Turn it down or one of these days, when it is quiet enough to hear a pin drop, you wont be able to. About the author: Robin Westen writes about health for national magazines. See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.