Hearing loss doesn’t mean you can’t drive — as long as you take the correct countermeasures.
Stefan, 45, a construction site manager for the past 10 years, started experiencing noise or ringing in his ears. He then began mishearing what was said on the phone, and have trouble hearing people amid background noise. When his hearing got worse, Stefan went for a hearing test.
The results showed significantly impaired hearing, most likely from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) — an occupational hazard, as he was constantly exposed to high noise levels from welding, chainsaws, drills, and pile drivers. Had Stefan known about NIHL and its preventive measures, he could have protected his hearing. Stefan laments, “I wish I had known the risks then!”
Several circumstances could lead to NIHL. Examples are one-time exposure to a short burst of explosive noise or continuous exposure. Others include:
- recreational loud noises, especially among youngsters who enjoy music using earbuds or headphones, playing in bands, or attending loud concerts
- firearm training without ear protection
The effects of NIHL can be immediate or delayed, temporary or permanent, and affecting one or both ears. Excessive exposure to loud noise damages the hairs in the ear and they don’t grow back!
The risk of hearing damage is weighed on the volume and duration of noise exposure, measured in decibels (dB). Most experts agree that continued noise exposure of 80–85dB or more can lead to hearing loss. In fact, exposure to 15 minutes of noise levels above 105dB each week is sufficient to damage hearing. To put things in context, the noise levels of some common scenarios are as follows:
- Normal conversation: 60–65dB
- A busy street: 75–85dB
- Lawnmower/heavy traffic: 85dB
- Forklift truck: 90dB
- Hand drill: 98dB
- Heavy lorry about 7m away: 95–100dB
- Motorcycles: 100dB
- Cinema: some films regularly top 100dB during big action scenes
- Disco/nightclub/car horn: 110dB
- MP3 player on loud: 112dB
- Chainsaw: 115–120dB
- Rock concert/ambulance siren: 120dB
Is It Reversible?
Depending on the cause, some types of hearing loss are reversible, others are not.
Earwax Blockage: Reversible
Earwax build-up occurs when you push the wax inner and deeper while trying to remove them with cotton ear buds. You can easily clear off ear wax by putting a few drops of baby or mineral oil into your ear. For severe cases, you may need a doctor to get the hardened wax out safely.
Ear Infections: Reversible
Mild hearing loss may follow an ear infection, but upon successful treatment, hearing is usually restored.
Sudden Hearing Loss: Usually Reversible
Sudden hearing loss may occur all at once or just over several days. Your doctor may treat this condition with steroids. About half of such cases get better on their own within one or two weeks.
Age-Related/Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Not Reversible
As we age, hearing loss is caused by natural degenerative changes to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Loud noise exposure leading to noise-induced hearing loss is another factor exacerbating hearing loss. In case of age-related and NIHL hearing loss, work with an audiologist to fit you with suitable hearing aids. You need to invest time to learn how to use, adapt and fine-tune them, otherwise the success rate would be very low.
FIVE TIPS TO PREVENT HEARING LOSS
- Wear ear protectors: When visiting places with high noise levels, earplugs can reduce sound levels by 15–35dB. Also, use ear protectors (earplugs or earmuffs) when handling noisy equipment, such as guns, power drills, saws or lawnmowers.
- Choose headphones: Noise-cancelling or muff-type headphones block out background noise better than earbud-style headphones, thereby reducing noise volume more effectively. Regardless, take frequent breaks from headphones to allow the ears to rest.
- Reduce music volume: The volume is considered too loud when it is uncomfortable to listen to, or when it becomes impossible to hear external sounds with headphones on. Another pointer to reduce volume would be if the music is audible to another person.
- Practice 60:60 rule with headphones: Listen to music with headphones at 60% of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Hearing detox: It has been reported that two hours of 100-dB noise would require at least 16 hours of rest for the ears to recover. Hence, reducing the recovery time may increase the risk of permanent deafness.
TIPS FOR DRIVERS WITH HEARING LOSS
Your hearing loss poses a significant safety concern for you and other road users. However, with proper safety measures, your condition should not deprive you from driving.
Firstly, work closely with your doctor and audiologist to evaluate your hearing loss and review it annually. If hearing aids are prescribed, make sure that you have adapted to them and use them when driving. Take these steps to be a safer driver:
- Be highly aware of your surroundings: Be observant when driving as it may be difficult to hear sirens and horns. Discern other drivers’ reactions while on the road. For example, if drivers are making way to one side of the road, this could indicate that an ambulance or escort is passing through. Also, watch out for flashing lights from other vehicles.
- Rely on your eyes more: Check your eyes to ensure your vision is up to scratch. Install a wide-angle full rear-view mirror to see more behind, while absorbing these visual cues and responding appropriately.
- Reduce noise and distraction: Concentrate on driving with minimal noise and other distractions. Drive with the car windows closed and lower the volume on the radio. You can hear better in the car if you program hearing aids to use directional microphones. If you must use the phone in the car, the most suitable hearing aids are those with a Bluetooth function, which can sync to your phone.
- Plan ahead for car breakdown: Think about the most effective ways to contact your insurance company or roadside assistance provider during an emergency. Work with service providers that are friendly to hard-of-hearing drivers.
- Use visor cards: Show visor cards when in dire situations, when you need to communicate with the police or other drivers. Visor cards inform others about your hearing problem and your preferred form of communication. With visor cards, you avoid unnecessary stress and misunderstanding.
In short, loud noises can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss in one or both ears. NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. Therefore, being aware of noise hazards and practising good hearing health is essential to protect against hearing loss.
This article is contributed by GetDoc.