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Preventing deafness.

Preventing Deafness

Much hearing loss that occurs when we grow older, especially after age 65, may result from decades of unnecessary exposure to loud noise -- not from the aging process.

"That is why education about noise hazards should begin at age 12," advises Dr. Mary Florentine, Professor of Audiology at Northeastern University in Boston. Her recommendation was made to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Conference on "Noise and Hearing Loss" recently held.

Noise pollution is only now emerging as a serious environmental issue as its hazardous effects are documented. Although noise-induced hearing loss is totally preventable, more than ten million Americans have suffered some hearing damage from noise exposure, according to the Public Health Service.

"Sounds of sufficient duration and intensity to damage delicate inner ear structures will produce hearing loss that is not reversible by any presently available medical or surgical treatment," warned the 14-number NIH Conference panel, chaired by Dr. Patrick Brookhouser, director of the Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha.

Although occupational noise exposure is the most common cause of noise hearing loss, the current focus is on the hazards of loud noise outside the workplace. For instance, in addition to farm and shop equipment, many young people are exposed to loud stereos, headsets, and a new noisemaker: extremely loud car stereo systems known as "boom cars." Findings cited at the NIH Conference were as follows:

* Some very intense sounds, such as gunshot or a firecracker, may cause permanent damage with a single brief exposure. In fact, a sudden intense sound can tear apart the spiral-shaped sensory organ in the inner ear.

* Exposure to sound levels of 85 decibels (the equivalent of the sound of a lawn mower or food blender) may cause permanent damage if endured for eight hours a day for a prolonged period.

* Medical research shows that "getting used to" noise is apt to result in gradual hearing loss that goes unnoticed because most hearing loss is painless.

* Noise damage can occur at any age, including infancy.

How can people learn to recognize and protect themselves from sources of potentially harmful noise? Two warning symptoms are a ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and a muffling of sounds heard.

Warning symptoms can occur after dangerous sound exposures from many sources, including lawn care equipment, airplanes, power tools, recreational vehicles, and some types of toys, to name a few.

When exposed to such noises, it is a common misconception that cotton can protect your ears, according to Maureen Mylander, editor of the NIH Healthline. However, other easy self-protection methods can be used. Mylander said that hearing experts from the newly formed National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) advise:

"You can protect your ears to some degree with inexpensive foam or soft plastic earplugs sold in drug stores or, in emergencies, a finger in each ear."

"Consumers need guidance to assist them in purchasing quiet devices and in adapting noise control strategies," said Brookhouser.

More hearing health information is needed in school health texts, according to Dr. Florentine. Many school students, she observed, take shop and vocational training in noisy workshops.

"These students are learning trades that will further expose them to high noise levels, so they should learn to protect their hearing now," she added.
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Author:Roosevelt, Edith Kermit
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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