8 expert tips to prevent in-flight hearing loss

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Doctor of Audiology Jodi Sasaki-Miraglia about noise-induced hearing loss. She is Director of Professional Education at Widex, a leader in hearing aid research and development. She is passionate about ridding the world of this type of preventable hearing loss.

To begin with, Dr Sasaki-Miraglia explained how the ear works and how hearing is damaged by excessive noise:

The ear has three parts – the outer, middle and inner ear. Sound waves travel through your ear canal and strike your eardrum, activating the bones in the middle ear and transforming sound energy into mechanical energy. This energy reaches the cochlea in the inner ear. The sound waves stimulate tiny hair cells in the cochlea that look like grass waving in the wind. You start with approximately 20,000 hair cells at birth.

The vibration of the hair cells creates an electrical impulse that is transmitted to the auditory nerve to the brain in fractions of a second. The sound is then analyzed and reacted or ignored in the brain.

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when the hair cells in the cochlea are damaged by sounds exceeding 80 to 85 decibels. The intensity and duration of exposure affects the degree of hair cell loss.

How many of the 20,000 hair cells you have left now depends on how well you have protected your hearing. Once damaged, these hair cells cannot repair or grow back.

Before hearing protection was mandatory in the workplace, machinists, pilots and first responders subjected to sirens were all exposed to dangerous noise levels. But noise-induced hearing loss persists despite advances in the workplace in hearing protection and hearing protection programs. Our recreational listening practices are part of the problem.

Recent statistics from the National Institutes of Health show that 37.5 million Americans aged 18 and over report hearing problems. Noise-induced hearing loss is, unfortunately, increasingly common among young adults with unsafe listening practices – listening to loud music.

Hearing loss can be subtle at first – difficulty hearing in a crowded room, difficulty hearing television, and difficulty understanding someone on the phone.

Dr Sasaki-Miraglia points out that hearing loss can reduce the pleasure of traveling. “When we travel, we want to have conversations with locals and learn more about the culture. Miss you if you can’t hear. If you pay full price and only make half the trip due to hearing loss, that’s not a good deal.

Difficulty hearing leads to withdrawal from social activities. When you don’t experience the fullness of life through daily activities with family and friends, and tend to stay home when you prefer to travel, hearing loss negatively impacts your lifestyle. .

If that glimpse of a life with less hearing hasn’t convinced you to take care of your hearing or seek help for your hearing loss, here’s another piece of evidence to consider. A recent study from the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that over time, adults with untreated age-related hearing loss, even if it is mild, may have an increased risk of cognitive decline. This is probably the result of social isolation or withdrawal. The good news is that properly fitted hearing aids by licensed hearing care professionals reversed these changes in six months in this study.

Dr Sasaki-Miraglia said many patients audiologists see have noise-induced hearing loss. The bad news is that once noise-induced hearing loss occurs, it cannot be cured. The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss can be treated with properly fitted hearing aids. And the best news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable.

Here are the ways Dr. Sasaki-Miraglia recommends to prevent hearing loss during flights and in everyday life:

Therese Otto

1. Wear hearing protection on flights

On take off, the jet engines can reach up to 140 decibels. Takeoff and landing are the noisiest parts of a flight. You should at least wear hearing protection during these two periods.

Over-the-counter earplugs will reduce sound by 20 to 25 decibels provided you wear them correctly. However, only about 50% of people place them deep enough in their ear canals to be fully effective.

You can also buy earplugs, known as musician earplugs, which are a step up from the foam or silicone varieties. They effectively reduce the noise of jet engines. As an added bonus, these earplugs don’t cut all the treble, so the listening experience for conversation and music is more enjoyable. If you buy a pair that comes with its own carrying case, clip it to your keychain and it will come in handy whenever you need it, whether on the flight or in a concert hall.

Passive noise canceling headphones block between 15 and 20 decibels. To do this, they must fit snugly and cover the entire ear.

Dr Sasaki-Miraglia warns that muffling engine noise by turning up the volume of the music or movie you listen to in-ear or in-ear headphones means your ears may suffer damage from double exposure to noise.

Personalized earplugs
Custom earplugs (Aitor Serra Martin / Shutterstock.com)

2. Invest in personalized earplugs

Your audiologist can equip you with custom earplugs that fit your ear canal properly, are more comfortable, and are more effective than one-size-fits-all earplugs that can allow more sound to enter the ear. middle ear because they adapt poorly.

3. Consider purchasing noise-canceling hearing protection

Active noise canceling headphones or headphones detect incoming sound waves and send opposing sound waves. The opposing sound waves cancel out incoming low-frequency noise (like that of a jet engine). They reduce noise by about 40 decibels.

Airplane interior
Therese Otto

4. Choose your seat wisely

The seats above the engines and towards the rear of the aircraft are noisier than those in front of the engines.

5. Download a decibel app

Anything above 80 to 85 decibels can become dangerous depending on how long you are exposed to the sound. The higher the decibels, the faster the damage to unprotected ears. For example, sitting in a crowded football stadium with loud supporters will put you at 115 decibels and risk hearing damage in 15 minutes. Lawn mowers reach around 90 decibels with a risk of hearing damage after four hours of exposure.

Rather than memorizing decibel levels, you can download an app to your phone that will give you a decibel level right away. There are a number of free sound level apps you can download, including Sound level meter for androids and NIOSH sound level meter for iPhone.

Pro tip: For a low-tech sound level meter, use it as a gauge: if you have to raise your voice to be heard or if you have to come within three feet of someone to hear them speak, the noise level is too high. raised. You should limit your exposure to this noise level to no more than 30 minutes to an hour, according to Dr. Sasaki-Miraglia.

Young man with hearing loss symptom on color background

6. Get a basic hearing test

If you haven’t had a hearing test since childhood, it’s time to take a basic hearing test with an audiologist. Ideally, a hearing test would be included in your health maintenance, as would physical exams, eye exams, and dental exams.

“Typically, insurance will pay for a hearing screen once a year,” said Dr. Sasaki-Miraglia. Medicare pays for hearing examinations on the recommendation of a health professional.

People at risk for noise-induced hearing loss should have their hearing tested once a year or earlier if they experience accelerated hearing loss or ringing in the ears.

Woman wearing Widex hearing aid
Widex hearing aid (Photo credit: Widex)

7. Know the signs of hearing damage

If you leave a rock concert and your ears are ringing, you’ve just damaged your hearing. If you feel like your ears are filled with cotton balls after leaving an ice rink in which the home hockey team faced the visiting team in all three periods and won in a shootout, you’ve just finished. damage your hearing.

Inability to hear high-pitched sounds, difficulty hearing a conversation in a restaurant or other place with background noise, difficulty hearing on the phone, need to turn up the volume on the television, and hypersensitivity or pain to ears with certain sounds are all signs of noise induced hearing loss.

8. Seek care sooner rather than later

If there is any sign of hearing loss, see your audiologist for a hearing test. “Treating hearing is more about staying healthy and active, not aging,” said Dr Sasaki-Miraglia.

And for anyone hesitant about hearing aids, she went on to say that advances in hearing aid technology mean greater user satisfaction with delivering the cleanest sound faster than ever. “The voices sound natural, the music is not flat, and the sounds are not fine. The hearing aid microchips adapt to the listening environment and listening intention in real time.

“People don’t realize how socially they withdraw until they consider their hearing,” she said. “When they do it with the right product in conjunction with the right hearing care professional, they wonder why they waited so long. “

For more information on Widex, see the link.

Here are some other tips to help you travel safely:


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