What do people in this country do on their days off? You can understand more about a person by looking at the things they do to relax. For instance, the American Time Use Survey produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states you are able to judge how much a person makes if you know their favorite hobby. It seems the more money you have, the more free time you spend improving your appearance at the gym, jogging or playing games on the weekend. Clearly, there is a major difference between the person who jumps out of a plane for fun and the one who hits the golf course once a week, right? The skydiver is looking for adventure, and the other person wants a life without the adrenaline surge.
These same things you do to relax relate to your hearing health, as well. You think what you enjoy on your days off is fun but what is it doing to your ears? Take some time to think about what you like to do and how it might affect your hearing.
Could a Hobby Lead to Hearing Problems?
When it comes down to it, noise is the major culprit in hearing loss. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noise that falls at a certain volume level will cause damage to the delicate mechanisms of the ear, mechanisms like:
- Hair cells
Sound goes into the ear in a wave. How strong that wave is depends on different factors like volume and distance. The sound goes through the ear canal to be amplified by the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, as it enters the middle ear.
In your middle ear, you’ll find three small bones that work together to transmit vibrations caused by this amplified sound wave, pushing it towards a flexible membrane that sits at the base at of the inner ear. The combination of the bones and the membrane further strengthen the wave.
The vibration caused by this stronger sound wave vibrates the fluid in the cochlea, a chamber in the inner ear. When that happens, the movement sways the tiny, and very delicate, hair cells to create a kind of electrical message. Simply put, the hair cells translate this sound wave into something the brain can understand. Once it gets that electrical signal, the brain can tell you what you are hearing.
For instance, let’s say you turn the radio on in your car. The sound created by the music enters the ears with the help of the pinna, or outer ear. It is amplified by the tympanic membrane, moving the small bones, which, in turn, vibrate the membrane at the entrance to the cochlea. The fluid in the cochlea moves as the membrane vibrates, causing the hair cells to sway, sending an electrical message to the brain. The brain decodes the message and tells you there is music playing. All this happens almost instantaneously, without you even having to think about it. Not only do you hear the sound, you understand it, knowing what direction it is coming from and whether you enjoy or hate it.
What If You Turn the Volume Up
Now, consider someone running in the park wearing headphones. It’s a little bit like firing a gun from point blank range. The sound wave that goes the ear is already loud, maybe enough to damage the eardrum. It’s certainly strong enough to cause the bones in the middle ear to move dangerously fast, creating a larger wave in the fluid of the inner ear; one that will eventually break the hair cells.
Maybe your favorite hobby is riding a motorcycle. The sound caused by the engine roar could lead to damage. The Decibel (dB) is the measurement associated with sound. Any noise above 85 dB can cause hearing loss. The average motorcycle engine generates around 100 dB of sound. The traffic you hear when driving in your car to the golf course is around 85 dB. The lawn mower comes in at about 107 dB.
What Hobbies Lead to the Most Hearing Damage
Anything you do that involves sound over 85 dB is a potential source of trouble. Everyday conversation or music playing at a sensible volume measures at about 70 dB. That should give you an idea of which types of sounds are a problem. Some of the common hobbies that can damage the ear include:
- Motorcycle riding
- Home improvement
- Sporting or music events
- Driving with the top down
Add to this list the things you do with headphones or earbuds in place, including video games or listening to music, and you can begin to appreciate the audible minefield that we’re crossing each day!
What Should You Do To Protect Your Hearing
You don’t have to give up the fun things to keep your ears safe. Just be smart about what you do. First and foremost, don’t wear headphones or earbuds for anything. If your hobby requires you to use drills or a hammer, wear hearing protection such as ear plugs or muffs. If you love live music at a sports arena or local bar, consider musician earplugs that preserve sound quality but reduce noise exposure.
You only have two ears, so do right by them. Go ahead and have some fun on your day off, but play safe.
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