America is a loud place. Many people spend their days working in noisy environments and then spend their nights at noisy bars or clubs. Too much racket is hard on our bodies. It can take its toll.
Audiologist Joe Gillespie of East Cooper Hearing Centers regularly meets with patients who have noticed that their hearing is getting worse. Their problems are often traced back to too much time spent in loud environments.
“They might work on aircraft or around the shipyard,” Gillespie said. “Say you’re a jet mechanic. You’re regularly firing up jets to test them out. Even if you’re diligent about wearing ear protection, you can be caught off guard. Occasional exposure to dangerous levels of noise can result in noise-induced hearing loss.”
The human ear isn’t made of steel. It consists of small, delicate hair cells that are designed to detect small sounds from far away. When the ear is battered with loud sounds, the hair cells are destroyed and never grow back. Hearing loss is the result. Eventually, you find yourself struggling to keep up with conversations.
Gillespie said, “It might become hard to tell the difference between the words ‘that’ and ‘vat.’ If you can’t distinguish between the ‘th’ sound and the ‘v’ sound, it leaves you guessing about what is being said. The brain has to work harder. You’re always trying to catch up.”
As hearing loss develops, you have to start making sacrifices. You might avoid visiting loud places that you used to enjoy, like bars or restaurants. You don’t see the point of going out when you can’t even follow the conversation. You might find yourself becoming withdrawn or depressed.
Gillespie recommended taking steps now to avoid hearing loss in the future.
“Earplugs — if worn properly — can have a very significant impact on preserving your hearing,” he said. “Some people, especially younger folks, don’t want to wear them. Or they’ll wear them but they don’t put them in properly. They’ll be on the job site and they’ve made it look like they have their earplugs in but they aren’t inserted correctly.”
That sort of attitude is a mistake. Wearing protection in loud environments is the single best thing you can do to protect your ears. But Gillespie said that there are still things that can be done even if a person has already slipped into hearing loss.
“My job is to test the hearing, examine the ear canal and, if there’s a medically treatable problem, refer you to a physician. If it’s a cochlea-related problem – like noise-induced hearing loss – I rehabilitate you with a hearing aid.”
He first screens your hearing, and if you fail the screen, he performs a comprehensive audiological evaluation that includes a word test, a bone-conduction test and an air-conduction test. He finds the softest level you can hear and compares your scores to normal scores.
For those with mild hearing loss, he will consult you on ways to hear more efficiently. For those with moderate to severe loss, he will recommend a trial to see if a hearing aid can benefit you. In the end, Gillespie’s goal is to help his patients regain a quality of life they thought they lost along with their hearing long ago.
For more information, call 843.881.8666 or visit www.eastcooperhearing.com.