Updated: Jun 13, 2021
What causes noise-induced hearing loss? For me, a lack of hearing education and common sense.
Upon diagnosis at age 16, my sensorineural hearing loss was considered mild. But no thanks to some early-20s antics, I swiftly leveled down to mild-to-moderate. So if you like your hearing the way it is, take it from me and avoid these things:
1. Loud earbuds
I'm old enough to have listened to music on this thing. According to news reports, the early-generation Apple iPods could reach 120 decibels – the level between a chainsaw and a military jet takeoff. And you can bet your headphone jack I listened on full blast, often for more than two hours a day. It may seem intuitive that loud music is bad for your hearing. But when I was young, I assumed it was like reading in the dark: it might strain my hearing, but not ruin it. Right? WRONG! Because I loved my rock reverberant, many a cochlea hair met its maker.
Out of sheer deadly curiosity, I tried cigarettes in my late teens and wound up addicted for ten years. While I’ve been fully smoke-free for more than five years, my hearing will never be the same. There are many gruesome reasons why, including mucous blockages! So let that mental image represent reason number 1,846,937 not to smoke.
3. Ototoxic prescriptions
I learned recently that certain antibiotics, among other drugs, can affect your hearing. Friendly reminder here that I’m not a doctor and Hearing Habits is not a medical website, so I don’t want to say what drugs I suspect may have contributed. But I do recommend researching whether a new prescription might be associated with hearing loss or tinnitus, because it’s a side effect doctors may not bring up.
4. Convertible driving
I'll cut my losses on this bad hearing habit. Cruising around top-down in Veronica, my Volkswagen Cabrio, made me feel alive! That sunshine on my face made the drive from home in Minnesota to college in Iowa City, or my first job in Madison, Wisconsin, a lot more enjoyable. But those four-hour stretches likely did a number on my hearing! According to a study summarized on Science Daily, driving 55 miles per hour or faster with the top down raises noise levels to 85 dB or higher, a level known to be dangerous if exposed for long periods of time. And that's without any face-melting rock and roll you may be enjoying on the open road!
This is a picture of me in 2013 , on a 10-minute car ride, wearing my original pair of Phonak hearing aids. I wouldn't wear them on a long car trip because they amplified the wind instead of the music!
5. Living without hearing aids
I was hard of hearing long before these shenanigans. My pediatrician suspected it at my
three-year-old checkup, assuring my parents that it wouldn't be an issue unless it began to interfere with my life. When I started struggling to pay attention in high school, I was tested and diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, an inner ear condition that is often genetic, changing the way the brain processes certain sounds - in my case, speech.
And that's not the only way hearing loss affects the brain. Through the process of neuroplasticity, hearing loss can literally make itself worse.
When you lose the ability to hear certain frequencies, due to excessive noise or any other reason, your ears stop sending electrical signals to your brain to translate what you hear. The longer these neural pathways go underutilized, the harder your brain has to work to understand speech. Ultimately, parts of your brain responsible for reasoning, short-term memory, and higher-level thinking take over to help you hear. This can cause mental health challenges for people of all ages!
Modern, high-tech hearing aids are great at filtering out sound and locking in on speech. This helps your brain build new neural pathways, freeing your mind to concentrate on thinking and interacting.
Are you guilty of any bad hearing habits? Comment below or join the conversation in the Hearing Habits Forum. Thank you for visiting Hearing Habits!