Excerpt: 'Save Your Hearing Now'

The ear-piercing sounds made by certain children's toys are just about off the charts, sometimes matching air-raid sirens in intensity.

An evening in a karaoke bar can cost a lot in terms of hearing. The combined effects of singing and music can go well above 95 decibels (dB).

If you're going to the gym, choose your aerobics classes carefully—and get a spot as far from the speakers as possible. Noise levels from a gym's sound system frequently hit the 90+ dB range.

Common Sounds in Decibels

15: The average threshold of human hearing (although some people can hear sounds in the 0 to 15 dB range)

20: The sound of a human whisper

50-60: Normal conversation

75: A typical vacuum cleaner

85-90: The point at which hearing damage begins (e.g., a hair dryer or a quiet lawn mower)

100: Power saw

120: Snowmobile engine, jackhammer, chain saw

135: A jet on takeoff, amplified music

140: Gunshot, emergency sirens, threshold of noise-induced pain

Since many tools and toys are commonplace, we tend to take the constant din for granted. In fact, we are so accustomed to noise that silence has become suspicious. Reportedly, back in the 1940s, a silent vacuum cleaner, equipped with an efficient but noiseless induction motor, failed to impress buyers; no one believed that a suction device could work without making noise.

NOISE IN THE WORKPLACE

Work-related noise is the leading occupational disease, and experts estimate that about 30 million Americans are exposed to toxic noise levels at work. Furthermore, 10 million people have hearing loss caused by excessive noise at work, according to the Deafness Research Foundation (DRF; www.drf.org). Even the quiet country life is hard to find, thanks to noise from farm machinery. And as a recent Minnesota survey found, farmers are feeling the effects. Fully two-thirds of those queried not long ago had moderate or significant hearing loss.

Bottom line: Hearing's greatest enemy is damage caused by aging. But today, noise is a close second, increasing the likelihood that millions of people will be forced to cope with impaired hearing before middle age even begins.

Since good hearing is essential to the learning process, children and young people are particularly affected by hearing difficulties. Unfortunately, many children with poor hearing are misdiagnosed as having learning disabilities. The hearing problems are never identified or corrected, leading to a vicious cycle with potentially serious complications, including social problems, unwarranted disciplinary actions, and major emotional difficulties.

Frequently, those children whose hearing loss is discovered and corrected don't fare much better, because wearing hearing aids sets them apart from their peers at a time when being different is difficult at best. Says the mother of a nine-year-old boy who suffers from hearing loss: "Having hearing aids at such an early age is a tremendous problem. Kids are so mean about his need for help. He's a bright, normal child except for his hearing, and they treat him like he's from another planet."

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