For many, when it comes to Fourth of July fireworks, the bigger the bang the better. But are all those loud explosions harmful to your hearing? How can you protect your ears while celebrating?
Clara Tu, a Sutter Health pediatric audiologist with Palo Alto Medical Foundation, gave us some answers. Listen up …
Use earplugs. Fireworks can be as noisy as a plane’s jet engine, and the closer you are the more dangerous they can be to your hearing. Compared to loud concerts, Tu says fireworks are “as dangerous if not equally dangerous if you are in close range or proximity, in my opinion.” She advises that you wear earplugs or other kind of hearing protection.
Your fingers don’t work. “Cotton and tissue paper do not work, neither do fingers or a hand covering your ears,” Tu says. Earplugs designed for swimmers won’t protect your hearing either.
Ears have their own warning signal. A short exposure to loud sound can cause temporary deafness or ringing in the ears, called tinnitus. This is the ears’ warning signal. “Some people also experience ear pain or an earache,” says Tu. The good news is that your hearing will often return to normal after a short, single exposure, but repeated exposures can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Beware the cumulative impact of routine noises. The effect of noise on hearing depends on how loud it is (sound intensity) and how long it lasts (duration). Hearing loss usually develops over a period of several years, and since it is painless and gradual, you might not notice it. “Typically, it is a good idea to start a baseline hearing test at age 50 or earlier if family history indicates early onset of hearing problems,” recommends Tu.
Sudden hearing loss is an emergency. “If you experience a sudden change in hearing, you should call your physician right away for a hearing check,” Tu says. “There is an urgent window of time when it is best to seek out audiology and ear, nose and throat specialists for treatment.” Sudden hearing loss should be considered a medical emergency, and patients should seek care immediately. Tu says there is a critical window of 48-72 hours or even less. Her clinic has a special arrangement in place to allow those with sudden hearing loss to be seen within a day.
Click here for more on audiology services available in Northern California.