Lost for Life

This month’s gadget is something every one of you absolutely needs, most of you don’t have, and unfortunately, most of you won’t get. I will be successful today if I convince even one of you to adopt it.

I was in my late 30s (today: 56 and counting!) when I began to notice my hearing loss. My wife would yell from the other room, “Take out the garbage!” and not really hearing her, I would pick my clothes up off the bedroom floor and put them away – something else she often yelled about from the other room.

She would lean over in church and whisper something in my ear. Not hearing a thing she said, I would take my best shot and whisper back, “I love you too.” At least this would elicit a slight smile as she shook her head in disgust.

The title of this article rings true: I have profound deafness in certain frequencies of sound, and those frequencies are gone forever. By the time I reached 40, I needed hearing aids. What does this have to do with you? You are also losing your hearing. It may be fractional and unnoticed at this time but chances are, many of you will need hearing aids by the time you are my age.

I am not an expert on ears or hearing. However, I am an expert on how hearing loss has affected me and some other people I know. I write about gadgets that can help you in your business; today I am writing about one of the most important gadgets you may ever use: earplugs.

Now hold it, don’t tune me out yet because there is more to this than sticking a couple of obnoxious foam plugs in your ear.

The American Academy of Audiology states: Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. More than half of the people with hearing loss are younger than age 65. Untreated hearing loss can affect your ability to understand speech and can negatively impact your social and emotional well being-hearing impairment can decrease your quality of life.

Believe it. You are exposing yourself to damaging sounds. I have been around portable and truck-mounted cleaning equipment for 35 years; during that time I have been exposed to some pretty loud machines. I am convinced, and so are my hearing specialists, that this exposure has caused much or all of my hearing loss. Even if you work in an office and are never exposed to the noise from a truckmount, or the loud “whistling” of the hose, you have probably attended a music concert, a major sporting event, a tractor pull or just listened to your iPod, you are exposing yourself to some pretty high decibels (dB, the unit sound is measured in). Any prolonged noise over 85 dB or loud short noises like a gunshot or a screaming grandchild (but ya gotta love ‘em) can cause hearing loss.
  • 60 dB – Normal conversations or dishwashers
  • 80 dB – Alarm clocks
  • 90 dB – Hair dryers, blenders, lawnmowers
  • 100 dB – MP3 players at full volume
  • 110 dB – Concerts, car racing and sporting events
  • 120 dB – Jet planes at takeoff
  • 130 dB – Ambulances
  • 140 dB – Gunshots, fireworks, and custom car stereos at full volume

The equipment we use can crank out some pretty high dBs

Truckmounts, multiple axial fans, whistling hoses, etc. often exceed 85 decibels.

The American Academy of Audiology states: Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells that are found in our inner ear. Hair cells are small sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear (sound energy) into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged our hair cells cannot grow back, causing permanent hearing loss.

My hearing aid specialist, Michael Loughridge, a board-certified hearing instrument scientist, explained that during each loud noise event we may lose just a few of the hair cells and, since there are thousands, it usually goes unnoticed until we really realize that we can no longer hear very well.

A good friend of mine has been in the cleaning business for many years. This past year he upgraded his equipment to a “super sucker” and made this profound statement:

“To borrow from a credit card ad: titanium wand, $1,200. Equipment and truck, $85,000. Hearing at the end of the day, priceless.”

Believe me, he’s right. Hearing aids are becoming better and better. They make it so I can get back into society and communicate. But no matter how good they are, they are not nearly as good as natural hearing. Just because a person has hearing aids, don’t think they can hear you as well as you hear them. I can’t just turn mine to a louder volume. Since I have little to no hearing in certain ranges, there is nothing that can be done to help me hear certain sounds. I will never be able to hear whispers. I can’t understand teenagers when they speak in church. I can’t understand what my wife is saying when she yells from the other room – OK, it’s not all bad.

Consider using personalized, form-fitting earplugs. My aforementioned friend, who after seeing my hearing aids and fearing that he was beginning to lose his own hearing took some steps to protect it, says, “I started with full-covered ear protection only to find that the head gear looked stupid and was way too hot to wear anywhere while cleaning. I tried foam earplugs but they were too much trouble to put in and take out every time I needed to run out to the truck or speak with a customer. I used the plastic plugs, but they plugged up the ear with pressure and were uncomfortable. Besides the obvious problems, none of them blocked the sound very well. I decided it was time to visit an audiologist and see what custom-made earplugs, molded to my exact inner ear shape, would cost and how they might perform. The cost was $180. A mold of my ear was taken and within 10 days I had my custom plugs. They fit perfectly, they’re comfortable, and they block the noise very nicely while still allowing me to hear speech frequencies when I need to communicate. Pretty slick, eh?”

Please don’t delay. Contact an audiologist, or maybe two so you can shop around. Get a hearing test. If your hearing is good now, great, but don’t count on it staying that way. Ask about custom earplugs. My friend wears his all day and doesn’t even know they are in. My hearing specialist tells me they start around $90 for a pair and go up from there.

I know you’re reading this, but what I’m really hoping is that you can hear what I’m saying.

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Recent Articles by Gordon Hanks

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