Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Noise and Hearing Loss: A Preventable Disaster

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Noise and Hearing Loss: A Preventable Disaster

Article excerpt

Modern life and noise are usually inseparable. Exposure and intensity, however, can be minimized.

By day, John works as a pressman in a busy newspaper plant. On nights and weekends, he enjoys attending rock concerts, hunting and woodworking, among other things.

Unfortunately, what John may not realize is that each of these activities -- when done on a regular basis -- is noisy enough to pose a significant risk to his hearing.

Millions of Americans are similarly vulnerable to noise-induced hearing problems, as hearing loss can be caused by exposure to loud noise over a long period of time. Yet situations such as John's don't have to be hazardous. Excessive noise, although preventable, is the nation's primary cause of hearing loss.

In John's case, participation in a company hearing conservation program or a visit to his physician for referral to an audiologist would likely allow him to continue his work and hobbies without fear.

Noise as an environmental health problem has long been overlooked, as has its role in hearing loss as well as other disabilities. Many people may not realize that whenever noise is so loud as to make it difficult to communicate, or when they experience temporary hearing loss because of loud noise, they are ultimately endangering their ability to hear. To make matters worse, the effects of the different forms of noise encountered during the day -- at work, at home or while at leisure -- are cumulative.

Although excessive noise seldom causes deafness, it can be a major factor in partial hearing loss. Symptoms may disappear within 24 hours of exposure, but cumulative damage may be irreversible. There is no known medical cure and a hearing aid will only help somewhat.

Excessive noise causes hearing impairment by progressively damaging the sensory hair cells of the cochlea. Degeneration of the cells starts near the base of the cochlea, where high-frequency sounds are detected, but can eventually spread to the entire cochlea. Once destroyed, the hair cells cannot be replaced or repaired.

Continuous exposure to loud noise such as farm tractors, newspaper presses, rock drills, motorcycles, diesel trucks and jet planes carries a significant risk of hearing impairment. Even sounds like shouting in conversation, the noises of a blender or a garbage disposal have intensities loud enough to cause hearing damage. Recreational activities such as hunting, riding snowmobiles or listening to loud music pose additional risks.

The early stages of noise-induced hearing loss are often only detectable through hearing tests. …

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