How do Americans spend most of their free time these days? You can learn a lot about a person by examining what they do to relax. For example, the American Time Use Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates you can judge a person’s income level based on their favorite hobby. Apparently, the richer you are, the more time you spend trying to look good by running, going to the gym or playing a sport. Obviously, there is a big difference between the guy who skydives for fun and the one who golfs, right? One likes adventure, and the other prefers life to move a little slower.
These same things you do to relax relate to your hearing health, as well. You think what you enjoy on your days off is fun but what is it doing to your ears? Take some time to think about what you like to do and how it might affect your hearing.
Could a Hobby Lead to Hearing Problems?
When it comes down to it, noise is the major culprit in hearing loss. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noise that falls at a certain volume level will damage to the delicate mechanisms of the ear like:
- Hair cells
Sound goes into the ear in a wave. How strong that wave depends on different factors like volume and distance, which are two of the most important. The sound goes through the ear canal to be amplified by the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, as it enters the middle ear.
In your middle ear, you’ll find three small bones that work together to transmit vibrations caused by this amplified sound wave, pushing it towards a flexible membrane that sits at the base at of the inner ear. The combination of the bones and the membrane further strengthen the wave.
The vibration caused by this stronger sound wave vibrates the fluid in the cochlea, a chamber in the inner ear. When that happens, the movement sways the tiny, and very delicate, hair cells to create a kind of electrical message. Simply put, the hair cells translate this sound wave into something the brain can understand. Once it gets that electrical signal, the brain can tell you what you are hearing.
For example, think about when you turn the radio on in the car. The music goes into the ears as a sound wave with the help of the pinna, or outer ear. The wave is strengthened by the tympanic membrane to move the small bones, so they can vibrate the membrane at the entrance to the cochlea. This membrane moves the fluid in the cochlea which causes the hair cells to send an electrical message to the brain. The brain decodes the message and sends a signal that tells you there is music playing. All the happens in a nanosecond and without you even having to think about it. Not only do you hear the sound, you understand it, you know what direction it is coming from and whether you enjoy or hate it.
What If You Turn the Volume Up
Now, consider someone running in the park wearing headphones. It’s a little bit like firing a gun from point blank range. The sound wave that goes the ear is already loud, maybe enough to damage the eardrum. It’s certainly strong enough to cause the bones in the middle ear to move dangerously fast, creating a larger wave in the fluid of the inner ear; one that will eventually break the hair cells.
Maybe your favorite hobby is riding a motorcycle. The sound caused by the engine roar is will lead to similar damage. Decibel (dB) is the measurement associated with sound. Any noise above 85 dB can mean hearing loss. The average motorcycle engine generates around 100 dB of sound. The traffic you hear when driving in your car to the golf course is around 85 dB. The lawn mower comes in at about 107 dB.
What Hobbies can Mean the Most Hearing Damage
Anything you do that involves sound over 85 dB is a trouble. Everyday conversation or music playing at a sensible volume measures at about 70 dB; just to give you an idea of what sounds are a problem. Some of the common hobbies that can damage the ear include:
- Motorcycle riding
- Home Improvement
- Sporting or music events
- Driving with the top down
Add to this list the things you do with headphones or earbuds in place including video games or listening to music.
What Should You Do To Protect Your Hearing
You don’t have to give up the fun things to keep your ears safe, just be smart about what you do. First and foremost, don’t wear headphones or earbuds for anything. If your hobby requires you to used drills or hammer, wear hearing protection such as ear plugs or muffs. If you love live music at a sports arena or local bar, consider musician earplugs that preserve sound quality but reduce the noise exposure.
You only have two ears, so do right by them. Go ahead and have some fun on your day off, just turn down the volume.