Protect ears now, prevent hearing loss later

By Gary Friedman | Apr 12, 2014
Gary Friedman

It was an autumn morning and I was working at my first job as an audiologist in a private practice. We performed hearing evaluations and fit hearing aids. I had just spent an hour with a patient who I thought would benefit greatly from getting a hearing aid. At the end of the session, she said that she needed to “think it over.” After she left the office, I expressed frustration to my boss, telling him how hard I had worked to encourage her, only to see her leave without taking action. He said, “Gary, if you want to stay sane in this profession, you’d better realize that you are recommending products nobody wants!”

You may not think you need hearing help “before your time,” however consider some of these facts about hearing loss; some causes are work-related, while others can be reduced by changing our habits.

Whether you are awake or asleep, your ears are being stimulated with sound 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Persons most likely to suffer damage to their hearing are those who are exposed to loud sounds for long periods of time without a break. The damage usually removes the ability to understand speech because of loss of high frequency hearing. In Maine, our lobster fishing industry has people on boats with diesel engines that cause hearing loss. Factory workers, police and fire department employees are examples of people who are routinely exposed to noise. Many people listen to music at volume levels that cause hearing loss. Ear protection is available, but is often not used. If we can’t reduce the source of the noise, then we must attempt to reduce the noise entering our ears.

There are two main kinds of protection: ear plugs and ear muffs. Let’s examine the type of plugs available. The least expensive are available in most pharmacies and are “one size fits all.” They are usually foam or sponge, and are rolled up by hand and inserted into the ear canal where they expand to seal the ear. These plugs should cost about $1 or $2 a pair. For a few dollars more, there are “pre-molded” plugs that come in different sizes. Depending on the shape of your ear, they may fit very nicely or not at all. These types are made of plastic or a rubber material.

Both of these plugs are pretty effective for casual use, but for someone who is regularly exposed to noise and wants the most effective and comfortable protection, I recommend considering custom molded plugs. You’ll need the services of an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser to take an impression of your ears (similar to having dental impressions for dentures or crowns). Depending on where you go, they may cost as little as $75 a pair or as much as $200. They should last a lifetime unless you lose or gain a lot of weight which would cause them to not fit well. If you use noise protection for recreational shooting or hunting, you may find some excellent custom noise plug services at gun shows. Check them out!

If you have difficulty hearing and would like more information, contact Pen Bay Speech & Hearing at 230-6380.

Gary Friedman, M.S., F-AAA, is an audiologist at Pen Bay Speech & Hearing with extensive experience in audiometric testing, hearing aid dispensing and videonystagmography (VNG) evaluations.

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