What doctors want you to know about fireworks and hearing loss

Fireworks seen from the Lincoln Memorial explode over the Potomac River for Independence Day, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Fireworks can be thrilling and awe-inspiring, but if you’re too close, they can cause permanent damage to your hearing.

“It’s the permanent hearing loss that we’re concerned about because it can’t be treated medically,” said American Academy of Audiology President Catherine Palmer. “It’s 100% preventable. So, let’s just be smart and prevent noise-induced hearing loss.”

Being within a few yards of firecrackers exposes your hearing to between 130 and 150 db of sound  — that’s equivalent to a plane’s jet engine.

What Palmer calls “acoustic trauma” from firecrackers or firearms, for example, can cause immediate hearing loss.

Initially, you might have a sense of fullness in your ears, ringing or roaring. Some of that may subside with time.

“But, you will be left with either some or a lot of hearing loss — just depending on your genetic makeup and how many times you’ve been exposed,” Palmer said.

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If you’re not able to keep an audibly safe distance away from pyrotechnics, Palmer recommends using a headset, ear plugs or both.

She said foam earplugs should be inserted deeply while leaving enough room to grab hold to pluck them out. Headsets might be more appropriate for young children.

Beware the cumulative impact of more routine noises.

Gradual hearing loss over time can result from repeated exposure to things such as loud music and power tools, such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

“We want people to be thoughtful and reduce what we call ‘dose.’ Dose is what we call how loud and how long,” she said.

Offering an acronym, Palmer said think of E.A.R.S.:

  • E — earplug
  • A — avoiding noise
  • R — reducing volume
  • S — shortening time

When listening to music with earbuds, for example, Palmer said to feel free to turn up the sound on your favorite song, but don’t leave it blasting. Turn the volume back down.

You can find additional information about hearing loss due to exposure to various types of sound on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Having your hearing tested is covered by insurance. Palmer said it’s a good idea to get a base line hearing test, “as part of your good health.”

If you suspect you might be experiencing hearing loss, Palmer said an audiologist can offer advice to protect the hearing you have left.

The more damage you do, the harder it is to help with things such as hearing aids.

“We want to prevent any further damage and help you to make sure you’re communicating the best you can. Because, when you don’t hear well, it’s a cognitive resource issue,” Palmer said. “You’re using a lot more effort, or if you don’t use the effort, you’re tending to isolate yourself socially, which is also really unhealthy.”

You can get help finding an audiologist on the academy’s website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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