Say What? 8 Ways to Lose Your Hearing

Cruising on a highway in a convertible with the top down and radio blasting may be one of the classic images that spring to mind when we think of the pleasures of driving an automobile.

In reality, such a scenario is more likely to be deafening, with the roar of the wind punctuated by sounds of traffic.

And according to a new study, the noise associated with driving a convertible can damage hearing over time.

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"The more you [drive], the more chance you have of developing permanent problems," said Dr. Philip Michael, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham, England, who presented his findings Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology. "It's a cumulative risk."

But beyond flashy cars, there are a several ways people may prematurely damage or lose part or all of their hearing before age or genetics do it.

And unlike other failed senses that can be restored with time and treatment, the ear is a fragile instrument that usually cannot be revived once it has been damaged.

The following is a list of ways hearing can be damaged and lost.

Convertibles

"There's a humanitarian reason for [this research] but also another reason, which is that I like cars," said Michael, who drives an Audi convertible.

But Michael's findings revealed more than personal taste.

Measuring the sound a driver will hear in several types of convertibles, including a Toyota MR2, an Aston Martin V-8 Vantage, and a Porsche 997 Carrera, at speeds between 50-70 miles per hour, Michael found that drivers are exposed to noise levels of 88-90 Decibels (Db).

The average conversation is held at about 50 Db, street traffic is about 70 Db, and an operating lawnmower is about 90 Db. Repeated exposure to over 85 Db is known to cause permanent hearing loss.

Greg Fletcher, 49, of Orange County, Calif., has owned a vintage Jensen Healey convertible since 1985, and said he is all too aware that convertibles are not the peaceful joy ride of people's fantasies.

"A convertible is something pleasant to drive on country roads at 40 mph," Fletcher said. "But [in my car] there's not much insulation, the engine is noisy, it vibrates a lot... Even with the top up I can't talk on the phone."

But the noise of the car is not the primary problem, Michael explained. Wind noise during fast driving and traffic noises during slower driving are the main problems of driving a convertible.

"When you've got a truck next to you, it's deafening," Fletcher agreed. "It's the most awful thing and you just want to get away as quick as you can."

Although Fletcher is not sure that driving his convertible several days each week will cause deafness, he noted that many owners know a convertible is not the best way to protect hearing.

"It's hard to say. I don't think my hearing is quite as good as it used to be," Fletcher said. "It hasn't gotten to a point where it's interfering with my daily life. But it's probably contributed in a negative way over the years."

Drugs

One of the lesser-known side effects of several types of drugs, including pain medications, certain antibiotics and platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, is hearing loss.

A three-year Vicodin addiction left Shannon Menosky, 40, from Riverside, Calif., deaf. Her habit, which at its peak was 50 pills a day, gradually killed the delicate hair cells in her inner ear until after a month of deteriorating hearing, Menosky woke up to total silence.

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