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Transcript: "Protecting Your Hearing"

Narrator: Hearing -- it is an essential part of every day life. But as we grow older, we are more likely to have problems with our hearing. There are many causes of hearing loss. Hearing can get worse as we age. Other causes include certain prescription drugs, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure. But one cause of hearing loss that is 100% preventable is noise.

[ loud electric motors ]

A. Julianna Gulya, M.D.: Loud noise is an important cause of hearing loss. The inner ear organ of hearing is a structure called the cochlea. The cochlea has little cells called hair cells because they have tiny projections called stereocilia. Loud noise can overstimulate the cochlea and in terms of overstimulation, the result is injury or even death and destruction of hair cells. The problem with death and destruction of hair cells is -- at least at this point in time -- we can't replace them. Once they're gone, they're gone and so it's very important to protect one's hearing from exposure to any loud noise.

Narrator: People are exposed to loud noises every day. In the home, on the streets, in public places -- noise is everywhere. But how do you know if loud noise has affected your hearing?

A. Julianna Gulya, M.D.: Well, the hearing loss that's just occurred very rapidly -- sometimes like a sudden hearing loss, when you've been exposed to say, an explosion or a rock concert, people will typically complain that their ear feels blocked up, they feel like they have cotton in their ear, and they have, paradoxically enough, a noise in their ear -- the noise we call tinnitus. Now, sometimes after a loud noise exposure, as in a rock concert, you will feel that sensation for several hours, maybe even close to a day, and then it will gradually go away. That tells you that you had a serious injury to your inner ear. In some cases you're not that lucky and that hearing loss may be permanent.

Narrator: There are two general types of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the cochlea. The cause may be earwax build-up, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical or surgical treatment can usually restore conductive hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is permanent. It is also the type that can result from loud noise. There are ways you can protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss.

A. Julianna Gulya, M.D.: There are a number of devices that are commercially available. You can go into your local hardware store and pick them up. It's important to look at the amount of hearing protection that different devices give and judge according to what you think your exposure is going to be. One tip is, though, a piece of cotton or piece of napkin jammed in your ear canal isn't protective at all and we really recommend against that. In general, when you think of things like chainsaws, lawn mowers, leaf blowers -- those are the kinds of situations where you should just get into the habit of putting on some sort of hearing protection and then you can be safe and rest assured to go about your activities without any concern.

Narrator: Your hearing is precious. By taking good care of your hearing and by talking to your doctor if you think you have a hearing problem, you can continue participating fully in life, while enjoying some of its most important sounds.

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