Episode 8 Noise Exposure and How to Mitigate It

The Transcript

Dale Johnson: You’re giving your ears a break this morning if you are not at your job, because within every industry sector workers are at risk for work related hearing loss. It’s common and it’s preventable and we talk about noise exposure this morning. How to mitigate it on The Conversation Starts Here with Dr. Sandra Miller from Complete Hearing in Lincoln complete-hearing.com is the place to go. Every Saturday morning we talk about one of your very precious senses you’re hearing. Dr. Miller. Welcome in.

Dr. Miller: Glad to be back again.

Dale Johnson:
I mentioned last week that I have a noise meter app on my phone, downloaded it, my work hazard obviously are my headphones. And as I mentioned last week I downloaded the app, put it up to the headphone and was pleasantly surprised. I’m in the mid 60s, thought I would be a lot louder than that. And you pointed out that when you wear both headphones it makes a difference. A lot of factors go into it, but people are working at jobs and putting their hearing at risk if they do not have specialized or at least some type of ear protection.

Dr. Miller: Absolutely. So we’re very grateful for the National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health, are grateful for OSHA. And there’s so many agencies out there now that do govern most workplaces in terms of if the levels get too high, a hearing protection is mandated or recommended. So we do see a lot of our patients coming in saying, “Yes, absolutely, I work for BNSF or I work at Molex or I work here. And yes I work in an environment where it is required that I have hearing protection on. So, which is a wonderful thing. Sometimes we don’t want to do it, because Oh well I don’t do that because I need to be communicating with somebody across the way or it’s a hassle or I forget.” So we want to talk about the importance of that and maybe some of the industries that maybe some of your listeners are in, and why it’s important and maybe some of the hours that they need to know about.

Dr. Miller: I think about when you think about even just a jet engine, when you see our military out on those jet engines on the aircraft carriers and you’d definitely see them wearing hearing protection, because any exposure to that level of noise is hazardous. It would cause hearing loss right away. But I also think about, we’re still in construction season. I was watching the news this morning thinking, Oh, those roads are still closed or are we in… I always think in Lincoln we always have construction going on, which is a good thing. We’re making our roads better, but whether you’re using a rivet hammer out there or you’re using some type of machinery that’s going to be very, very loud. That hearing protection absolutely has to be worn, rivet hammers and things that are busting up concrete are going to cause immediate damage if people aren’t wearing hearing protection.

Dr. Miller: So that’s just something to think about in regards to things that you might be doing and can go all the way down to even some people who are working in a metal shop or welding things that you wouldn’t think were as noisy, but you’d be surprised. I think about my son who works in an automotive center and just the tire air pressures and things that they use and the drills and of course he’s going to say, “Mom, we don’t use drills.” Just some of the things I think where people are, “Oh, I would never would’ve thought that would’ve caused damage to my ears.

Dale Johnson: I see more farmers with ear protection.

Dr. Miller: I love that.

Dale Johnson: That used to be kind of a maybe a weakness, so to speak. “I’m a farmer. I’m tough. Don’t need ear protection.” I see more that are wearing it though.

Dr. Miller: Well, I think it’s, I’m so grateful because early on we didn’t have tractors with cabs. Right, they were out in the open and a lot of times, we say they have farmer ear, because they have noise induced hearing loss, but whatever direction they’re turning around to look behind them, we always can tell that one year is worse than the other, because that year was always towards the engine. And so it is a good thing. We do have these newer tractor cabs now that are more enclosed, which is a good thing, but that noise level can still get to a level that may not be safe if they’re out during this time of year, right we’re into the harvest season and so you think about, I’m on the tractor all day long, eight hours a day. We’re so grateful for our farmers skipping dinner so we can have dinner, which I think is awesome. We’re grateful for that. But just remembering that they are still run a lot of information in terms of noise levels that could potentially be damaging to their hearing.

Dr. Miller: So good for them. I’m going to continue to encourage them that that is definitely something you need to do, because once you have permanent hearing loss, it just doesn’t come back.

Dale Johnson: A steady continuous noise or sudden bursts of noise. Fair to say are both damaging, but is one worse than the other?
Dr. Miller: I would tell you they’re both equally damaging and depending on the noise level and one can happen impact-fully immediately, and what can happen over time. We just want to make sure we’re protecting ourselves. We’re kind of away from the fireworks season hopefully, but we still have it. And so sometimes we tell you it’s better for you to just let the… Don’t be a DIY person at home, enjoy the fireworks from afar, because that’s what it would be best for your hearing overall. So that’s just one area too, where we want to make sure people are being safe.

Dale Johnson: Kids more susceptible than adults. We’re not talking about work on this particular question, but just kids around noise.

Dr. Miller: Yeah. So I want you to think about, we talked about last time that we have this ear canal that’s like a big tunnel that’s closed on one end. And think about how much smaller kids his ear canals are. So their acoustic chamber is a lot smaller, which means even louder sound. A lot of times, see if you ever watch people who have their infant or toddler children at a football game or a race car event or something like that and they have hearing protection on, wonderful. Because think about how much more damaging it can be to them. Because that chamber is so much smaller, which increases the decibel level inside the ear canal itself.

Dale Johnson: And one type of earplug does not serve all situations.

Dr. Miller: Such a great comment. So true. So what I want you to do is anytime that you’re going to be in a situation when you’re going to be exposed to noise, that’s going to be excessive, is to find something that you can buy them over the counter for a very reasonable high noise reduction rating like we talked about last time. But something that fits comfortably, we are all made differently for sure. And one ear of yours is likely different than the other. So your ears are not uniform in shape or size.

Dale Johnson: One has sharper hearing maybe than the other?
Dr. Miller: In terms of shape though.

Dale Johnson: Oh shape?

Dr. Miller: Yeah, in terms of shape. And so sometimes you might find a well, this earplug fits pretty good on my right ear, but I tried it in the left. I might have to go to a smaller size on that side, because you’re opening just maybe different. It’s kind of like people who have different size feet for their shoes, but it’s more unique. We see it in ears. Sometimes we’ll take impressions of the ears for custom hearing protection. We’ll take them out and the ears will look completely different. And so they’re curvy, there are one’s bigger than the other. One’s more round than the other. So you are made uniquely. And so sometimes we always say one size doesn’t always fit all.

Dale Johnson: If I take out that earplug and there’s a little bit of wax on it, is that a concern?

Dr. Miller: No, that’s pretty normal for the most part. I tell our patients that you have wax naturally occurring in your ear and some wax is good. It protects the ear, keeps it healthy. When you take the earplug out, I’d be more concerned if you’re, “Oh, I maybe I shoved all that wax down in my ear and now my ears plug.” That’d be more of a concern. It’s very common for you to have a wax on the tip of that year piece for sure.

Dale Johnson: Is it really wax? I’m thinking, no.

Dr. Miller: Oh wax. What’s interesting about your ear is not only does it creates a wax and sloughs wax, but we have dry skin in our ears. Hopefully you’re not sticking anything else in your ears that don’t belong in there.

Dale Johnson: Like a cotton swab?

Dr. Miller: Like a cotton swab.

Dale Johnson: I was going to… I really was going to do this, bring a cotton swab and without letting you know no advance, just hold it up and get the reaction on your face.

Dr. Miller: I think my reaction would be that’s ear damage. Did you stick that in your ear this morning?

Dale Johnson: Put that away.

Dr. Miller: Put that away. There’s just so many kind of, we’re kind of getting to the topic of, this is also protecting your ear aside from having hearing protection is we just don’t want to be sticking those things in our ears. If you read the back of that box, that Q-tip box tells you, do not stick this in your ear.

Dale Johnson: Right.

Dr. Miller: We don’t listen though.

Dale Johnson: Then what would be a good way to have your ears cleaned?

Dr. Miller: Such a great question. What I would tell you is your ears and like a natural conveyor belt. It is meant to just slough the wax and the skin right on out of your ear through showering when we sleep at night, things like that. I’d say when you get out of the shower, simply dry your ears out and just use your towel to get the overall ear and then just right inside the ear canal with a towel. Kleenex. What happens when we use Q-tip, is we stick it in too far and some of us just love to get in there and and just dig. And what happens when you dig as you harm the ear canal itself, you potentially can. Any wax that might be in there, you end up pushing farther down into the year, which is not a good thing. Because overall sometimes I just may create that you have wax plugged inside your ear, which is not a good thing. So that little Q-tip is not meant to be stuck deep inside the ear.

Dale Johnson: Did I hear you say that once hearing is damaged or compromised it is irreparable?

Dr. Miller: Depending on what the cause is. So we had been talking quite a bit about noise induced hearing loss. So previously we had talked about there’s different kinds of hearing loss. And so when you have hearing loss that’s caused by I pushed too much wax inside my ear, that’s not permanent. Typically if we can take that wax out it should resolve your hearing. We talked about middle ear type things which be ear infections, things like that. Typically that can be remedied with some type of medication or with kids they get tubes in to ventilate the middle ear. Permanent hearing loss typically is 90% of hearing loss. And it comes from those things we talked about last time, genetics and noise exposure and medications you may take over your lifetime. Once hearing loss is permanent, those little hair cells that sent sound inside the interior, they don’t grow back. And so if we were birds, we could regenerate them and we’d never lose our hearing. But that doesn’t happen to us as humans. So we want to make sure we protect what we have.

Dale Johnson: You had me really curious today, what are tubes in the ears?

Dr. Miller: Oh, such a good question. So what you want to think about, and this doesn’t just happen for kids, and so both of my kids as they were growing up, they get constant ear infections, constant ear infections, and so the antibiotics weren’t working anymore. So what happens is right behind that eardrum is a space that’s supposed to be air filled. And when you have your infections, fluid fills up in that middle of your space and it’s not supposed to be there. So some kids and adults require that they just slip the eardrum, put a little hole in it and then they place a tube into the ear drum and that tube stays in there and that to ventilates that ear so it doesn’t build up that pressure and then ultimately get fluid in it. For kids. Usually they put them in and they come out in about nine months and naturally the ear drum closes back together.

Dr. Miller: If you have a child or even an adult who has chronic ear infections, they never heal. They can put something called a T-tube and it stays in a lot longer period of time to keep that year ventilated so that the infection doesn’t come back. So T you’ve never heard of tubes in the ears?

Dale Johnson: I have, but I have no idea whether a tube was just a name that described something that was similar to a tube or whether it was an actual tube.

Dr. Miller: Well, they come in great colors and when you take them out, they’re like the size of the tip of your finger. They’re very, very small, but the purpose of the tube in the ear for people who have constant ear infections just to ventilate that middle ear space so it doesn’t build up with negative pressure and then relieve the fluid.

Dale Johnson: The ear is amazing, and I’m just amazed by this device that we can’t see tucked inside our head.

Dr. Miller: Yeah, it’s one of those things that’s the sense that I think is most overlooked. And so the intricacies of the ear are really, it’s amazing that we hear. We could go into a whole anatomy lesson on how does the sound hit the ear drum and vibrated? What happens to those bones? And how does that translate into sound? It’s fascinating.

Dale Johnson: So it’s only right, we talk about every Saturday morning on The Conversation Starts Here with Dr. Sandra Miller of Complete Hearing, 4,200 Pioneer Woods Drive in Southeast Lincoln. That’s Northeast of 70th and Pioneers. Join us next weekend on KFOR FM 103.3, 12:40 AM.