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As summer fireworks season reaches its peak and growing numbers of Americans are reporting hearing loss, its important to protect your hearing during firework displays. Noise from fireworks can reach up to 155 decibels. To put this into perspective, this is louder than a jet plane taking off (150 decibels).
Damage to hearing can come from multiple lifetime exposures as well as a one-time blast or extended exposure of up to eight hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loud noise over 120 decibels can cause immediate harm to hearing.
Surprisingly, the greatest risks to hearing do not come from professional fireworks displays (although these can pose a risk), but the backyard fireworks people use themselves to celebrate, says Florida Hospital audiologist Dr. Annette Marie Garced-Santiago.
Never hold a firework or firecracker with the intention to throw it before it explodes, Dr. Garced-Santiago says. Even if you do throw it in time, if it is anywhere close to you when it explodes, your hearing can be immediately, permanently damaged.
Unfortunately, once the inner ears delicate hair cells are destroyed, they do not grow back.
Once these are damaged by noise, the result is permanent hearing impairment, she said.
You may be suffering from hearing loss if the following applies to you:
- Hearing ringing, buzzing, or hissing noises one or more days after exposure to fireworks
- Muffled hearing after the fireworks
- Suddenly having to turn up the volume of the television, radio, or stereo and having other family members complain that the volume is too loud
- Difficulty understanding people speaking to you and asking people to repeat themselves
- Difficulty with phone conversations and understanding the other person
- Sudden inability to hear the doorbell, crickets, the dog barking, and other household sounds
- People telling you that you speak too loudly
- Ringing in the ears
- Ear pain
The National Institutes of Health recommends using earplugs when around fireworks or other loud noises.
Children are at particular risk for hearing loss from backyard fireworks displays because of their excitement, curiosity and wish to be close to the activity, Dr. Garced-Santiago explained.
According to a 2016 study by the National Institutes of Health NIDCD, approximately 15 percent, or 37.5 million, of American adults aged 20 to 69 have some trouble with hearing and approximately 28.8 million could benefit from the use of hearing aids.
As the baby boomer population ages, more Americans are forced to face hearing health challenges. Growing numbers of younger Americans (including millennials and Gen Xers) are also reporting hearing problems.
Anyone who is exposed to loud noises, for any duration, should wear ear hearing protection. Along with the American Academy of Audiology, we believe that awareness is an important way to identify more cases of hearing loss and help more people live better and feel whole.
Healthy hearing contributes to enjoyable relationships with the people around you, which nourishes your body, mind and spirit.