MELROSE PARK, Ill. — Summer in Chicago can be noisy. “Fireworks, ‘el’ trains, concerts and road construction can be harmful to your hearing. And once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired,” said Jyoti Bhayani, a certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.
One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal speech. Aging is the most common cause of this condition. However, exposure to excessive noise also can damage hearing in higher pitches.
“Hearing loss due to excessive noise is totally preventable, unlike old age or a medical condition,” Dr. Bhayani said.
Here are the registered levels for common sounds in Chicago*:
Decibel Level (db) Sound
30 soft whisper
60 normal conversation/computer typing
70 expressway traffic
85 earplugs recommended for prolonged exposure
90 subway/”el” train, lawnmower, shop tools
100 chainsaw, snowmobile, drill
110 power saw
115 loud rock concert, sandblasting, car horn
130 race car
150 fireworks/jet engine takeoff
*American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
Music to my Ears, or Just Plain Noise?
“It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you,” said Dr. Bhayani, who regularly cares for construction and factory workers, frequent air travelers and seniors in her practice at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. “I recommend using hearing protection devices for those who are exposed to excessive, loud noises and musician’s ear plugs, which simply attenuate the intensity/loudness without altering frequency response.”
People can be individually sensitive to different levels of sound, but experts recommend using hearing protection when exposed to sounds louder than 85 decibels for an extended time.
“Many think it is cool to rock out to loud music, especially with your headphones on – but is it cool to wear a hearing aid?” Bhayani asked.
Loud Noise Permanently Kills Ear Nerve Endings
Three small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound vibrations to the inner ear where they become nerve impulses that the brain interprets as sound. “When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the hair cells and nerve endings in the inner ear,” Dr. Bhayani explained. “The louder a noise, the longer the exposure, and the closer you are to the noise source, the more damaging it is to your nerve endings, or your hearing.” As the number of nerve endings decreases due to damage, so does your hearing. Nerve endings cannot be healed or regenerated and the damage is permanent.
Ear Bud Warning
Use of ear bud headphones by youngsters may save your ears from being assaulted by the noise of your teenagers’ music or electronic game, but it may be damaging your child’s hearing.
“Three in five Americans, especially youth, are prone to develop hearing loss due to loud music being delivered via ear buds,” said Dr. Bhayani. Sound that is too loud, especially close to the ear, is harmful. “The truth about hearing is loud and painful – once a nerve is damaged, it cannot be restored. It is gone forever.”
Safe Summer Survival Tips
Dr. Bhayani said now is a great time to become more aware of hearing because “Chicagoans are enjoying the start of a noisy summer.”
In her practice at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, Dr. Bhayani regularly sees patients as young as newborns and as old as 100. In addition to being a doctor of audiology, she is a member of the American Academy of Audiology and has a clinical competence certificate issued by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Here are a few summertime tips from Dr. Bhayani:
Cover your ears: Local fireworks, holiday parades, taking the “el” to ballgames or the lake, lawnmowers and outdoor concerts are fixtures of summer in Chicago.
“Generic, over-the-counter earplugs are inexpensive and can be found at any drugstore,” Dr. Bhayani said. “However, they can be custom-made for comfort and durability. Buy earplugs now and keep them handy in wallets, backpacks, briefcases and purses so you can pop them in when noise is loud and continuous.” Dr. Bhayani also suggests using a scarf or even covering your ears with your hands to muffle sound.
No swabs: Many Chicagoans enjoy frequenting the local park district pools or area beaches. “Swimmer’s ear is caused by painful membrane swelling due to trapped moisture in the outer ear,” Dr. Bhayani said. “Multicolor customized plugs for swimming are available and a good investment to avoid painful, or costly, ear infections.”
After water sessions, Dr. Bhayani recommends tilting the head to drain water from each ear, and gently wiping the outer ear with a towel. Do not use cotton-tipped swabs to clean ears. “Swabs can actually push wax or harmful material further into ears, and many people use them improperly or too forcefully, which can cause pain or damage.”
The plane truth: Many air travelers complain about ear discomfort when the plane is taking off or landing.
“Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum and sucking on hard candy also are effective in unplugging the ears,” Dr. Bhayani said. If yawning and swallowing are not effective, pinch the nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air, and direct the air into the back of the nose as if trying to blow the nose gently. The ears have been successfully unblocked when a pop is heard. This may have to be repeated several times during the plane’s descent.
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 22 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.