Episode 5 Hearing Protection

The Transcript

Dale Johnson: Dr. Sandra Miller is here from Complete Hearing in Lincoln, complete-hearing.com. Dr. Miller, welcome in.

Dr. Miller: Thank you for having me back.

Dale Johnson:
We’ve flipped the calendar over to September, and in my mind that’s transitioning from summer to fall.

Dr. Miller: Exactly.

Dale Johnson: But we have some activities that can be detrimental to your ears, that still are sort of summer-ish but can be done in the fall time. The first one that comes to mind is mowing a lawn.

Dr. Miller: Absolutely.

Dale Johnson: Did that last weekend.

Dr. Miller: A lot of people are out still. I think this comes to too maybe even fall clean up. We’re out there, still mowing our lawns because the grass is still growing. Hopefully it stays nice through the fall for us, but I think about mowing the lawn. I think about getting our trees trimmed up for the fall season. We’re kind of getting everything. We have our leaf blowers out. So many things that might be happening and people don’t think about, when I go out to do those activities, what are those noise levels and should I be protecting my hearing?

Dale Johnson: I see tree trimmers in the neighborhood. I see lawn services in the neighborhood and they are wearing protective earwear.

Dr. Miller: I know. We always jump for joy when we see that. We’re like, “Yay for you and whoever your boss is,” because that’s such a great thing to have implemented for people who are in those environments, whether they’re working or even you at home.

Dale Johnson: But we should do it too.

Dr. Miller: You should totally do it too. I think about when you’re out mowing the lawn, your lawn mower is going to run above a level that’s even safe for a long period of time. So we say the the cutoff is 85 decibels and people say “Well, how do I know if it’s 85 decibels?” I will tell you that most of the lawnmowers are running at that level and if you’re out there for an hour or two… Especially I think about those people who have riding lawnmowers and they’re on their lawnmower for hours because they maybe have a really large yard or an acreage. What you want to think about is protecting your hearing, because over time that can have a very significant impact over time.

Dale Johnson: I know it has a hearing impact because when I’m mowing my yard, I cannot hear traffic. I can’t hear someone approaching me. My wife, a neighbor coming up to talk. It’s being blocked out by the sound of the lawnmower.

Dr. Miller: Exactly.

Dale Johnson: And the leaf blower.

Dr. Miller: The leaf blower is even louder sometimes than your lawnmower is. So what I want you to think about as you are out doing still some of those summer activities, fall activities, in terms of cleanup, mowing the yard, using a leaf blower, if you’re cutting some branches off the tree. Get some hearing protection on. It could be simple as I just stop by Walgreens and grab some of those foam ear plugs and put them in or some ear muffs to put over the ears.

Dr. Miller: What I want you to notice is that if you are out doing those activities and you turn everything off and things start to sound a little bit muffled, or you’re like, Things aren’t sounding quite as clear,” that’s your ear telling you, “Hey, there’s been some damage.” Most likely temporary, which is a good thing, but you don’t want to do that repeatedly over time. I kind of compare those little sensory cells inside your inner ear to a row of corn. If we keep driving over the same path of corn over and over again, the corn doesn’t grow back. So when you think about those little sensory cells inside your inner ear, the same thing happens. “Hey, I mow my yard once, twice a week.” Depending on the allotted time you’re doing that, you could potentially be doing some damage to your hearing.

Dale Johnson: So, the foamy type plugs are adequate?

Dr. Miller: Absolutely. What you want to do when you go to the store is you want to think about buying something that has a very high noise reduction rating. So on the back of any package, there’s going to be three letters. NRR. They stand for noise reduction rating. Look for the highest number you can find. I think 32 might be the minimum that I would recommend, especially in those loud environments where you just really need to be protecting your hearing. Most of my patients tell me the challenge is if you have a weird shaped ear, your ears are small. “I haven’t found anything that comfortably fits me.”

Dr. Miller: My favorite one are the ones that are shaped like Christmas trees because they tend to be more tapered and they’re very easily bought right over the counter. Some of my patients who are around noise all day long, “Hey, Sandra, I mow lawns all day long.” We recommend something more custom. It’s only going to be as good as how well it fits in your ear. So, the noise reduction rating may be 32, but pending on if it’s not fitting well, there’s a leak in the fit because of the shape of your ear, you may not be getting that maximum protection. So if you’re going to be using a chainsaw or some place where it’s going to be really, really noisy, I’d say put some foam earplugs in and then take some ear muffs and put them over the top as well. Double protection would do you a great service.

Dale Johnson: Hey, and if you’re a guy out there and you think, “Ear protection? That’s silly,” and you think your lawnmower is not that loud or your chainsaw is not that loud, download an app.

Dr. Miller: Oh, my goodness. Couple of things you can certainly do is, if you go to our website, there’s a blog we have posted in terms of all the different apps you can download for a decibel reader. So it will tell you how loud your environment is. So I would tell you, this morning I was at the gym and I went to a class, which I don’t usually do, and I thought to myself, “I wish I had a decibel reader in here,” because I thought it was extremely loud and I thought “I could use some earplugs, just even in this environment.” So, if you start to feel like it’s loud and your ear’s becoming muffled, definitely.

Dr. Miller: The app is a really cool thing. Honestly, if you go into any app store, whether it’s on your iPhone or your Android phone, just search decibel level meter or noise reader. It will give you an app that you can download and it’s really neat, and if you go to our website, there’s a big listing of different apps that are on different stores where you can look to see what would work best for you.

Dale Johnson: I did that before you came in and I put it up against my headphones. I truly did think that my headphones were too loud from too many Led Zeppelin albums over 40 years, but I was surprised that it was in the mid-sixties.

Dr. Miller: Yeah, and that’s-

Dale Johnson: You said, “Well, that’s fine.”

Dr. Miller: That’s an okay thing and I think putting… There’s two ways we want to look at this. If you take your headphone and you stick it up against the speaker of your phone. That’s one thing.

Dale Johnson: Which is what I did.

Dr. Miller: Exactly, but what you want to think about is when you’re putting a headphone up to your ear, your ear is like a long tunnel that’s closed on one end and there’s a reverberation chamber that happens in there. So when we see noise induced hearing loss, it’s happening between 3,000 and 6,000 hertz. That’s because that sound might be at 68 but at those frequency levels it may be louder.

Dr. Miller: So you just want to be careful about… We talked about a little bit about, “When is the noise too loud?” Well, if I’m talking to you with your headphone on and you can’t hear me, that’s too loud. That’s kind of a common sense kind of thing, but just making sure that things that you just even listen to if you’re just curious to the noise level, use one of those apps and it will be really, really helpful to you.

Dr. Miller: One time I was flying home from a conference and we actually took our phones out and laid them on the seat of the airplane as it was taking off and it went well over a hundred decibels in the plane just because of we were sitting right by the engine inside the plane, but it was very, very loud. Even for a short period of time, I was surprised at how noisy it was.

Dale Johnson: And that’s crazy high, isn’t it?

Dr. Miller: It is crazy high.

Dale Johnson: If my headphones were in the mid-sixties?

Dr. Miller: Exactly. So even think about, we’re in football season now, Go Big Red, which is great, but that stadium can also get very, very loud. So we want to make sure. Timeframe is where we get into risk and so you want to make sure, is this going to be a high risk situation or am I just at nominal risk? You want to make sure that you’re monitoring those things and making sure that you’re at an appropriate risk level. So I even think about, some of us are doing maybe some projects still where we’re using a power drill or we’re doing some things where projects that may be noisy or tools that we’re using and so you just want to make sure that if it’s something that’s going to be loud enough, “What is the timeframe I can be exposed to this without having some hearing protection on?”

Dale Johnson: Swimming, and not so much now, although my neighborhood that has a swimming pool just for the neighborhood did have a final swim last weekend.

Dr. Miller: I’m kind of sad about that.

Dale Johnson: I know. It’s a passing of time.

Dr. Miller: It’s a passing of time.

Dale Johnson: But for some people, swimming is an issue with too much water in their ear.

Dr. Miller: Absolutely. So the ear canal has a very delicate acidic balance and for some of our patients who are avid swimmers or even during the summertime, we encourage using some earplugs. They’re so neat. We can make them custom so the water doesn’t get in the ear and if they do come out for some reason, they float and so you won’t ever lose them. I think about even we’re getting into the season of people traveling and they might want to go snorkeling or they might want to get in the ocean.

Dr. Miller: If you are somebody who is prone to having ear infections because of maybe something where you get too much water in the ear, it doesn’t drain effectively. That happens to me. The water never comes out. I always stand on one foot and I’m always jumping up and down trying to get it out. Just for three reasons, I would say, to get some custom swim plugs would be number one, we see a lot with kids. If they have tubes put in the ears, they can’t get water deep down inside the ear canal, so we custom make earplugs for that and like you said, we’re kind of getting out of the swimming season, but even if in swimming lessons, that’s another great reason to do that.

Dr. Miller: Second, I would say if you are prone to having, the water gets in and we just end up having some type of fungal infection that happens because the water just doesn’t come out. It upsets this acidic balance of the ear canal and some people are more prone to that. I’d say the third reason is, if you are somebody who just swims for exercise and you don’t like to have that feeling of, “I can’t get the water out of my ear,” it’s a great other resource to have for that and they’re really reasonable in terms of custom making those and they’re comfortable, they’re easy to wear. We find that we do a lot of that during the summertime.

Dale Johnson: I had a friend who had ear problems from diving into water. What happens?

Dr. Miller: Well, that’s all about pressure equalization. So one thing definitely is when you dive, you don’t want to be wearing custom hearing earplugs. The pressure will be even worse then. So what you want to think about, when we dive into the water, we go too deep. There’s that pressure equalization that happens and so you hear that a lot about diving or you hear about scuba divers who are coming up. They have to come up slowly to equalize the pressure. If too much pressure gets built up, you have the potential to rupture your eardrum. So you just want to be cautious about how deep and how fast you’re going or when you’re coming up it from scuba diving, how slowly you’re coming back up. It’s not only for the bends as they call them in that scuba diving world, but also equalizing the pressure of the ears.

Dale Johnson: Circling back to the foam earplugs that you mentioned you can pick up at any store.

Dr. Miller:  Yep.

Dale Johnson: I’ve used those. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where now I use them at concerts.

Dr. Miller: Good.

Dale Johnson: And you tell me that there are some specialized ear plugs for concerts and for music so you don’t lose the fidelity.

Dr. Miller: Yeah, so when you go to the concert, most people think, “I just want to protect this so I don’t have any more damage to my ear,” but what you want to think about when you buy something over the counter that is meant to protect your hearing, it’s going to protect some of the lows and a lot of the high frequencies. The reason it’s designed that way is your ear canal. We talked about the resonance of the ear canal is between 3,000 and 6,000 hertz. So we want to protect the maximum of the high frequencies. Well, guess what that does to music fidelity? It makes everything sound not so great.

Dale Johnson: It takes away the highs.

Dr. Miller: It takes away the highs, which isn’t good. So if you’re looking for something that has more of a flat attenuation is what we call it, or a flat reduction across the frequency range, you want to go to more of a concert earplug and we talk about that. We have different kinds of filters we can put on them depending on how much attenuation you want to still maintain the fidelity. So I encourage it whether you’re doing it or not at the concert, but I’d also tell you there’s some really great… If you are a music lover and go, “I want to wear those, but it takes away so much of the enjoyment that I do have there,” come talk to us. We have some great solutions for those concert earplugs.

Dale Johnson: Can’t let time get away from us, Dr. Miller, without a special event that complete hearing is behind, Grandparents Day at the zoo tomorrow.

Dr. Miller: Oh, we’re so excited to have everyone join us. Grandparents Day, we are sponsoring. Every grandparent gets in free or you can get a free train ticket. You get to choose admission or train ticket when you bring your grandchild with you. So we’d love to have you out at the zoo with us and join the day. We’re hoping for no rain and sunny skies. We’ll be there either way, handing out some water and some great fun facts about hearing in animals, tattoos, some really great stuff we’re going to be doing. So we are so excited to be helping sponsor this, and we’d love to see you at Grandparents Day at the zoo.

Dale Johnson: Grab the grandkids and head to the zoo this weekend, and join us every Saturday morning here for The Conversation Starts Here.