Preventive Maintenance What’s that? What to know about healthy hearing

by Karen Bowen

Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves more than you used to? Do you say “Pardon/huh?” in every conversation? Do your ears ring when you get out of your truck? Do you hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking when no one else does?

It’s time to get your ears checked. You may have tinnitus.

Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) affects 25 million North Americans, and no one knows exactly what causes it. But, tinnitus can be aggravated or triggered in the following ways:

Noise-induced hearing loss: Being around loud noises damages and even destroys the hair cells, called cilia, in the inner ear. Once damaged, these hair cells cannot be renewed or replaced.

About 90 per cent of all tinnitus patients have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.

Wax build-up in the ear canal: Not everyone produces the same amount of earwax. Some people produce enough to interfere with their hearing.

If you produce a lot of earwax, speak to your physician about having excess wax removed by a doctor.

Certain medications: Some medications may damage your ears. Others produce tinnitus as a side effect without damaging the inner ear. Effects, which can depend on the dosage of the medication, can be temporary or permanent. So make sure your doctor knows you have ringing in your ears before getting a prescription, because alternative medications may be available.

Ear or sinus infections: Many people, including children, experience tinnitus along with an ear or sinus infection, usually disappearing as the infection heals.

Jaw misalignment: Jaw joints or jaw muscles that are out of line may cause tinnitus. If this is your problem, look for a dentist who specializes in treating temporomandibular jaw (TJM) misalignment.

Cardiovascular disease: About three per cent of tinnitus patients experience pulsatile tinnitus: a rhythmic pulsing, often in time with a heartbeat.

This could indicate a serious circulation problem, like a heart murmur, hypertension, or hardening of the arteries. Get it checked.

Certain types of tumors: Very rarely, people have a benign and slow-growing tumor on their auditory, vestibular or facial nerves. These tumors can cause tinnitus, deafness, facial paralysis and loss of balance.

Head and neck trauma: Banging your head or neck can also make your ears ring.

One thing’s certain – excessively loud noises damage your hearing. For protection, wear earplugs if the sounds are 85 dB (decibels) or above. How loud is 85 dB? This is the dB level of these everyday sounds:

Ticking watch: 20 dB; quiet whisper: 30 dB; refrigerator hum: 40 dB; rainfall: 50 dB; sewing machine: 60 dB; average traffic: 85 dB; MRI: 95 dB; blow dryer/ subway: 100 dB; lawn mower/ chain saw: 105 dB; screaming child: 110 dB; jackhammer/ jet engine (110 ft. away): 130 dB; shotgun blast/ airbag deployment/ firecracker: 140 dB.

Just one exposure to noise levels of 140 dB and above may permanently damage your hearing. However, at the lower noise levels, longer exposure is required for permanent damage. Normal traffic with a dB level of 85 merits earplugs, always. Sixty or more hours per week of traffic noise, combined with engine noise is permanently damaging to your hearing.

In general, if it’s too noisy to speak at a normal conversation level and be heard, you should either wear earplugs, or move away from the noise source.

Since you can’t move away from your engine or the traffic, protect yourself.

Take preventative steps to ensure your ability to hear 10 years down the road.

First of all, notice the noise around you. Don’t be afraid to use earplugs.

At the movies, the trailers usually blast out. Pop in the earplugs. At amusement parks and concerts, wear them. Since they only cut out 15-20 dBs of loud sounds, you’ll still be able to hear.

At work, while sitting behind a diesel engine, mowing the lawn, using power tools, or running noisy appliances, protect your ears with earplugs or earmuffs. And when you’re buying power tools, read the label to see the dB level of noise they generate.

Then, guard your hearing accordingly.

There are warning signs that you may already have damaged your hearing: You have trouble hearing others in public places. You can’t hear everything that’s said to you. Others joke about your inability to hear.

You have to turn up the TV or radio. You speak louder than you need to. You favour one ear.

Even if you can hear the words, you can’t always understand what’s being said to you.

Don’t let it get worse.

Whether at home, at work, or at play, one thing’s certain: wherever you go, whatever you do, you will be exposed to noise.

And escaping that noise gets harder every day.

The time to start protecting your future hearing is NOW!

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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