By Ann L. Rhoten, Au.D., CCC/A
It’s sort of a joke that men have “selective” hearing. That is, they seem to be able to hear the things they want to hear … and unable to hear the things they don’t want to hear.
The truth is, if your father, brother or husband seems to have this particular affliction, there’s a good chance that he really does have hearing loss. By some estimates, men are five times as likely to suffer from hearing loss than women, and it isn’t just confined to those over the age of 60.
In fact, hearing loss may begin as early as age 18!
When you think about it, there’s really no mystery why men lose their hearing more often, and suffer more profoundly from the loss, than women. Although things are changing, many men work in occupations that are noisy – construction, automotive and diesel repair, manufacturing, the military.
Further, men are typically responsible for the noisy aspects of maintaining a home: mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, using the leaf blower. They use power tools and chain saws. They hunt, ride four-wheelers and motorcycles and participate in the shooting sports. They go to NASCAR races and maybe even race themselves. Younger men, in particular, blast music loud.
All of these activities take a toll on hearing, but it’s not the whole story. Getting older, in general, is hard on the hearing. The sensory hair cells of the inner ear, called sensory prebycusis, do not regrow. As we age, these tiny hair cells die and each loss represents an additional hearing deficit. Some people lose these hairs more readily than others. That’s the luck of family genetics.
In addition, there are some things we do in the name of better health that can actually hurt hearing. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, can damage the hearing as can the regular use of acetaminophen. Other medications can affect hearing as well, so if you’ve recently noted a change in your ability to hear, you may want to discuss the medications you’re taking with your doctor or other care provider.
Chemicals exposure and hearing
Men are frequently exposed to chemicals in their work or hobbies and many of these can damage hearing. Called ototoxic, these substances affect the delicate structures of the inner ear. Because the hearing frequencies affected by chemical exposure are different than those by loud noise, the effects can be dramatic. Substances you should watch for include:
• Arsenic – A metallic element that occurs naturally. Often used to control parasites and microorganisms.
• Benzene – A petroleum byproduct found in plastics, paints, cleaning agents and cigarette smoke.
• Carbon disulfide – used in pesticides.
• Carbon monoxide – A byproduct of burning; found in vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke or the fumes of gas-powered tools, cook stoves, clothes dryers and welding.
• Styrene – Found in plastics and insulating materials
• Trichloroethylene – A solven used in dry cleaning, as a spot remover and in rug cleaners, paints, waxes, pesticides, and lubricants.
• Toluene – Paints, lacquers, adhesives, rubber, leather tanning, spray paint, and many other products.
• Xylene – Paints, vanishes, and thinners
If you use any of these substances, either at work or at home, ensure good ventilation and use a hood, mask or breathing gear. Gloves should always be worn when using chemicals as they can soak into the skin.
Another major source of hearing damage for men is military service. It’s estimated that 60 percent of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have hearing loss or suffer from tinnitus as a result of their exposure to artillery, gunfire and IED explosions. Riding in and being around military vehicles – helicopters, armored personnel carriers – have also been implicated in veterans’ hearing loss.
What to do about it
The most important thing you can do is to be aware of the impact noise can have on your hearing and act to protect it. Avoid loud environments and take steps to reduce the noise in your workplace and home. Purchase low-noise tools and equipment and maintain it so it makes the least amount of noise and vibration possible. Frequent breaks and quiet rooms are a good idea as they allow your hearing to recover from the exposure.
Employers are required to provide hearing protection for employees working in an environment in which noise levels exceed 85 decibels on average. But the employee has to do his part! Use the hearing protection provided, every time.
At home, buy and use hearing-protective devices – ear muffs, sound-dampening headphones, ear plugs – and keep them near the equipment you need them for.
Protecting your hearing applies to recreational pursuits, too. Use hearing protection when riding, shooting, hunting … anytime you’re likely to be exposed to loud noise.
If you, or someone you care about, is suffering from hearing loss, there’s no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed; more than 28 million Americans suffer some hearing loss today.
At Kentucky Audiology & Tinnitus Services, we can help you hear again. Should you need a hearing aid, we offer FREE demonstrations. Call our office at (859) 554-5384 to schedule a consultation and start hearing what you have been missing. We’re conveniently located at 1517 Nicholasville Road, #202, Lexington. Or visit our website at kytinnitustreatment.com.
How Loud Is It?
A lot of the things men do expose them to loud noise. Here’s a list of some of those activities and their decibel levels. Anything about 85 dB should be considered too loud and hearing protection should be used.
• 12-gauge shotgun blast 165 dB
• Motorcycle 100 dB
• Power saw 110 dB
• Loud rock concert 115 dB
• Jet engine at 100 feet 140 dB
• Hand drill 98 dB
• City traffic inside a car 85 dB
• Jackhammer at 50 feet 95 dB
• Gas-powered lawn mower 107 dB
• Chain saw 120 dB
• Chop saw 107 dB
• Outboard motor 100 dB
• Normal conversation at home 50dB