When you think about protecting your children from illness, your thoughts likely turn to getting them vaccinated and teaching them to wash their hands often. You probably don’t think about protecting their hearing as a way to prevent serious illness, but new research suggests that you should.

Linking Hearing and Health

A report released in October of 2018 by the World Health Organization (WHO) makes it clear that noise and noise pollution contribute to both mental and physical illnesses, stating that excessive amounts of noise can “disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psycho-physiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.”

It’s true that there is no escape from the noise of traffic, trains, airplanes, wind turbines and even leisure activities like music concerts. That doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Protecting your hearing helps you preserve it and reduces your risk of other health problems — and there are plenty of ways you can do that for yourself and for your children.

Hearing Health for Kids

Every baby born in Ontario after 2002 gets screened for hearing problems shortly after birth. This early screening identifies infants with hearing issues, so they can get the help they need to develop language and communication skills.

Whether your infant’s hearing tests in the normal range or proves impaired, it’s important to protect whatever hearing ability remains. To do so, make sure noise-making toys aren’t too loud. It’s best to avoid or discard loud toys with no volume control. Although earbuds allow your child to enjoy movies, games and music without disturbing others, it’s important to limit their use and monitor their volume.

Remember that hearing problems can develop at any time, so pay attention as your child grows. If you notice your child always turning up the television or speaking loudly, she may have a hearing issue. Listening problems can also indicate a loss of hearing. Of course, loud music and trouble listening could just mean your child has become a teenager, too, but it’s best to have their hearing checked to make sure.

Hearing Health for Adults

Unfortunately, fighting genetic hearing loss is sometimes a losing battle. You can, however, greatly reduce your risk of exposure to environmental causes of hearing loss if you keep your ears open to some sound advice.

To protect yourself, consider the amount of noise produced by the equipment, vehicles, tools and appliances you purchase for use at home and at work. Many times, electric and battery-powered devices make less noise than those driven by gas or diesel engines.

When you must use equipment on the louder end of the spectrum, use barriers and noise dampeners whenever it’s possible. This protects others who find themselves within earshot of your work area. Protect yourself, as well, by wearing disposable earplugs, earmuffs or customized hearing protection.

Hearing Protection Choices

Disposable earplugs are readily available and inexpensive, which makes them a good choice for many. Their small size makes them easy to carry and convenient when working in tight places where bulkier gear, like earmuffs, may be an issue.

It does take some time, however, to mold these generic plugs to your ears, and they may irritate your ear canal if you don’t shape them properly. Some users find insertion and removal difficult, and good hygiene is a must. Disposable earplugs are just that and should never get used more than once.

Earmuffs, too, have pros and cons. Because they’re easy to see, earmuffs are hard to misplace. They also make it easy for supervisors to ensure that employees wear them as required. It’s safe to wear earmuffs even with an ear infection, and they reduce vibration in addition to protecting hearing. Earmuffs are somewhat bulky, however, which makes them less portable than disposable earplugs and more cumbersome when working in tight spaces. You may struggle to wear earmuffs comfortably if you wear glasses, safety hats or religious head coverings while working.

While both disposable earplugs and earmuffs have their place, custom earplugs generally work best for those frequently exposed to loud noises. Made specifically to fit your body, custom earplugs provide superior comfort and perform better than other hearing protection devices.

The biggest objection people have to customized earplugs is their initial cost. Custom earplugs typically last three to five years, however, making them cheaper over the long term than other hearing protection solutions. Custom earplugs also improve compliance. Ear protection doesn’t work if you don’t wear it, and many of us have been guilty of removing uncomfortable hearing protection. Customized earplugs offer superior comfort, increasing the likelihood that you and your employees will actually use them and do so without complaint.

Remember the Audiologist

No matter what type of hearing protection you choose or how faithfully you use it, remember to have your hearing checked annually.

Noise-induced hearing loss is usually gradual, so you may not notice it until it becomes severe. Hearing loss also occurs without pain. Although a lack of pain is typically considered a good thing, pain does indicate that you’re having a problem. Without it, you’ll have no way of knowing that you’re hearing is suffering unless you have it checked by a professional. Annual hearing tests detect even slight changes in your hearing, allowing you to adjust your hearing protection as needed.  

If you’re still not convinced, consider what you have to lose. People affected by noise-induced hearing loss typically lose the ability to hear high frequencies first. This means that the first thing you’ll lose is the ability to hear the voices of women and children. This could mean missing out on what your daughter, wife or grandchildren have to say. As your hearing continues to erode, you could ultimately lose the ability to hear deeper male voices, too.

Hearing loss caused by noise is permanent, but it’s also 100 percent preventable. Give your children a healthy start by monitoring and limiting their noise exposure and teaching them to protect their hearing as they grow. Protect yourself by choosing quieter tools, using the proper hearing protection and having your hearing checked every year.

Author: Karen Vye

The World Health Organization, 2018
Alzheimer Society of Canada, 2018
Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2002