Archive for Tuesday, January 28, 1992

MANY PEOPLE UNWITTINGLY ENDANGER THEIR HEARING

January 28, 1992

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— John Ferraro says it boggles his mind to see people wearing Walkmans while they're mowing their lawns.

That's adding insult to possible injury.

Chairman of the hearing and speech department at the Kansas University Medical Center, Ferraro is concerned enough about his own hearing to wear ear plugs, not a Walkman, when he mows his lawn.

In a recent interview, Ferraro stressed that anytime a person had to shout to converse, hearing was endangered. Lawn mowing and activities such as rock concerts and sporting events offer prime opportunities for hearing loss.

Ferraro, who also is interim dean of the KU School of Allied Health, said the main factors in determining the danger of noise exposure were how loud a noise was and how long a person was exposed to it.

THE BEST prevention in terms of hearing loss, he said, is to simply stay out of loud environments or, if that's impossible, wear ear plugs.

"You can incur a hearing loss and never know it," he said. "You may be paying for it later."

Ferraro said everyday things such as hair dryers also could affect a person's hearing in the long term.

He compared noise exposure to being blinded by light.

If a noise isn't loud enough to break the eardrum, the part of the ear most likely to be damaged is the inner ear. Tiny hair cells responsible for triggering the response of the hearing nerve to the brain break down when the inner ear sustains damage, he explained.

If the cells are damaged, signals won't transfer to the brain, which Ferraro said is what actually does the hearing.

HE EXPLAINED that the inner ear was the most fragile portion of an ear and that problems with the outer or middle ear might be turned around with medical or surgical treatment.

Inner ear damage, however, often is permanent and requires a hearing aid as a corrective, he said.

KUMC researchers currently are studying ear damage and noise exposure.

Symptoms of hearing loss from noise exposure include a ringing sensation after a person leaves the noisy environment, Ferraro said. The ringing condition is called "tinnitus" and its' causes can range from ear drum damage to ear wax.

If a person experiences pain from a loud noise, "you know it's too loud," Ferraro said, adding a "very loud, sudden" noise can rupture an eardrum, although most noises aren't that loud.

NOISE IS measured in decibels, which are units for comparing levels of power ratios, especially sound, on a logarithmic scale. Silence is 0 decibels (db), normal speech 50 db, heavy traffic 80 db and a jet aircraft 120 db.

Ferraro said because decibels were a linear unit of measure, sounds ranging 80 to 90 db were "really moving up a lot." Farmers, military personnel, factory and railroad workers and even dentists may be exposed to high decibels, Ferraro said.

He added, however, that employers were required by law to keep a watch on noise levels.

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