Don’t Let Fireworks Blast Out Your Hearing
Jun 29, 2023
Emma Dugas
Silhouette of DJ wearing headphones and performing at a night club

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?

Dr. Douglas Hetzler, a Sutter otolaryngologist with Palo Alto Medical Foundation, gave us some answers. Listen up …

Distance, defense and duration. Commercial fireworks can “certainly” cause hearing loss, says Dr. Hetzler. He recommends people take precautions, like distancing themselves from the explosion. “I’ve treated patients who had a firecracker explode in close proximity to their ear and they had an immediate, permanent decline in their hearing.” He also advises people to wear earplugs or other kind of volume-reducing ear protection (e.g. earmuffs) as a defense.

Finally, he suggests that people limit the duration of their exposure to loud sounds from fireworks and firecrackers.

Short isn’t always safe. Dr. Hetzler also warns that even a short exposure to loud sound can cause ear pain, ringing or humming/buzzing sounds, and hearing loss. “Whether such symptoms are temporary – or not – can only be known after time passes. In some people a single loud sound event can cause a permanent hearing change.” The change may include greater difficulty hearing soft spoken people or people with high-pitched voices or hearing everything as somewhat muffled.

When to get tested. Hearing loss usually develops over a period of several years, and since it is painless and gradual, people might not notice it at first.

“If you are aware of a decline in your hearing, or are told by others that you might have a decline; if you have difficulty hearing things you could hear in the past; if you notice a difference in hearing between your two ears; if there is a sudden change in their hearing ability – these are all indications that you should get a hearing test,” says Dr. Hetzler.

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,” Dr. Hetzler says. “There is an urgent window of time when it is best to seek out ear, nose and throat or otolaryngologist specialists for treatment.”

An ear exam will reveal if there is anything obstructing the ear canal or if there is fluid behind the eardrum. If everything looks normal, the hearing loss could be the result of sudden nerve damage that has the best chance of improving if treated soon (48-72 hours) after onset.

Click here for more on audiology services available in Northern California.


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