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Sound (pressure) can damage hearing when either the level of sound is very loud for an instant (eg., impulse noise from a rifle = 140dB) or exposure to a steady-state noise that is loud enough (85dB+) and long enough (averaged over an eight hour day). The ear is actually quite resilient to loud sound, but after many exposures and over many years, permanent hearing loss can develop. The purpose of this page is to discuss ways to limit exposures to loud sounds.
The frequency of the loud sound is relatively unimportant as sound pressure tends to damage the same inner ear structures that affect the frequency range in and around the 4000-6000 hertz (Hz). For example, the sound of a jack hammer occurs in the pitch range well below 250Hz (middle C on the piano), but still results in high pitch hearing loss in the 4000-6000Hz range. That's because it's pressure that causes hearing damage, not so much the pitch of the sound.
Those at greatest risk for noise induced hearing loss include:
√ Hunters and recreational shooters because of the very high intensity of impulse noise from rifles (especially automatic weapons) and hand guns.
√ Workers who are exposed to relatively loud steady state loud noise (eg., construction and plant workers)
√ Drivers of loud vehicles such as motorcyclists and drag racers because of the level of noise and length of exposure;
√ Those having serving in the military, especially pilots and those directly exposed to military combat without proper hearing protection (eg., Vietnam Vets).
Those that should consider hearing protection include:
√ Musicians and those that attend music or athletic events - Research is less than impressive regarding the potential risk of noise induced hearing loss, however it is important to side on caution. I recommend when the sound environment is "rediculously" loud, be smart - protect your ears.
√ Patients who are over-sensitive to loud sounds - Persons with traumatic brain injuries tend to be ultra-sensitive to loud sounds to the point that avoid certain places such as restaurants, movies and the like - things they would like to do, but cannot tolerate the sound levels. These patients have done very well with "Musician's plugs." These are custom earmolds with a soundbore with an acoustic filter. The filter dampens sound volume by various amounts without changing the quality of the frequency spectrum, thus the reason they are called "musician's" plugs.
√ Spouses of snorers - Some snoring can be so loud even earplugs cannot block out your spouse's snoring, but it can help.
√ Outer or middle ear disease - Especially persons with perforated eardrums require vigilant protection from water entering the middle ear causing potentially serious middle ear infections. Special earplugs are available for this persons.
Musicians Head Injury Spouses of Snorers Ear diseases