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York, Pa., June 29, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — When we celebrate Independence Day this July 4th, we often think of finding the best place to see fireworks, but we often don’t think about the impact it may have on our hearing.
As a professional Audiologist with more than 33 years at WellSpan Health in south central Pennsylvania, I see how one instance of a very loud noise, or exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time, causes permanent hearing loss.
The American Academy of Audiology shares that there are seven classifications for noise levels – varying from faint like leaves rustling to painful and dangerous by decibels, the measure of sound pressure.
To put that in perspective, the first category represents faint noises like whispering and breathing accounting for approximately 20 to 35 decibels. Whereas the seventh category representing the most painful and dangerous noises reach more than 130 decibels. That seventh category includes fireworks, among other loud noises.
From research, we know that it will only take noise of 85 decibels for extended periods of time to cause permanent hearing loss.
It may be surprising to hear, but 85 decibels are represented in the middle of the noise range levels in the fourth category and reflects noises that we may hear everyday like traffic, vacuum cleaner, and our alarm clocks.
As you can see, the sound pressure and percussion of a firework, being the highest threshold on the noise levels, can pose a threat to our hearing.
What happens is that after repeatedly hearing these loud sounds, the hair cells in our ears that help transmit noise signals to the brain may become damaged. A normal, healthy hair cell will appear bent and puffy, while noise-damaged hair cells appear nearly non-existent limiting the hearing capability you have.
And, unfortunately, we are seeing people across the country facing hearing loss at a record high and rising annually.
So, we must be mindful of our hearing – and other’s hearing – while watching fireworks or lighting off celebratory fireworks.
As you celebrate with fireworks this Independence Day, I urge you to consider a few steps to protect your hearing.
Regardless of where you are, you should wear hearing protection like earmuffs or earplugs made specifically to prevent hearing loss. Ensure that children’s ears are protected as they are particularly vulnerable because their smaller ears result in an even louder sound reaching the inner ear, potentially causing even greater damage.
Second, stay a bit further away from the loud noises. You can add a layer of protection from viewing the fireworks inside a house or a car with the windows up. Also, avoid fireworks shows in the backyard – for many reasons. One firework in the backyard could be more hurtful to your hearing than professional fireworks – as the action is closer to the ground and closer to you.
The actions we take today – or particularly when we are listening to loud noises like fireworks while celebrating – will help our future hearing.
Let the fireworks go boom, but protect your hearing so you can continue to thrive for years to come.