Firecrackers, lawn mowers, concerts, and hand tools—these are just a few of the loud sounds that come to mind when we think of summer activities. One thing these sounds have in common: they can be dangerously loud. The human auditory system is a highly-specialized, complex system that works to convert sounds from the environment into signals the brain can understand and use. The structures that make up the auditory system are very small and fragile. A few of the structures found within the organ of hearing (the inner ear) are particularly at-risk of the damaging effects of noise. Sensory hair cells are very complex cells that encode information about sound, such as frequency (pitch), amplitude (loudness), and timing, to the brain. Think of these structures as your internal microphones! When a loud noise enters the auditory system, the physical impact can be so severe that these sensory structures can be temporarily or permanently damaged. Three things we know for sure: 1) the louder the sound, the more damaging it can be, and 2) the longer we listen to these loud sounds, the more damage can occur, and 3) noise damage can occur at any age.
So, what is the big deal? Over time, as these inner ear structures withstand more damage, they eventually stop performing their job of encoding accurate information about sound to the brain. This can result in a permanent hearing loss. The consequences of hearing loss are widespread and can impact one’s ability to communicate and hear the sounds around them.
How can you protect your hearing from the loud sounds of summer? Here are four main ways: 1) turn the volume down, 2) distance yourself from the loud noise, 3) take breaks from the loud noise or do not participate in loud activities, and 4) wear hearing protection! In the summer, it may be difficult to avoid loud sounds, so if you plan to light fireworks, mow your lawn, or work on projects with loud hand tools, do your ears a favor and wear earplugs, earmuffs, or customized hearing protection devices! Your ears will thank you later.