How do you protect your ear?

Sound or noise has two characteristics: Frequency (i.e. pitch) and Loudness

Sound is the quickly varying pressure wave induced by particle vibration through a medium (air, liquid or solid). The number of pressure variations per second is known as frequency of sound, measured in Hertz (Hz).
The higher the frequency i.e, the more cycles of vibration per second, the higher the pitch. On the other hand, the lower the frequency, i.e., the fewer cycles of vibration per seconder, the lower the pitch would be. The audible frequency range of human ear is from 20 to 200,000 Hz while the major frequencies for speech lies between 500 – 4,000 Hz.
Loudness of sound is determined by the degree of particle vibration. A loud sound usually has a larger pressure variation while a weak one has smaller pressure variation. Pressure and pressure variations are expressed in Pascal (Pa).
Human ear can perceive a wide range of sound pressure. The softest sound a normal human ear can detect is known as the Threshold of Hearing, which has a pressure variation of 20 micro Pascals (µPa). However, expressing loudness using pressure change (Pa) is quiet inconvenient due to the enormously wide range from as 20 to as big as 2,000,000,000. A simpler way is to use a logarithmic scale, using 10 as the bas, for representing loudness of sound, measured in decibel (dB). This scale uses the hearing threshold of 20 µPa as the reference level and define it as 0 dB.

How loud is too loud that is hazardous to our hearing?

Urban environment if full of noises of various levels, so how can you tell when a noise is too loud that could possibly damage your hearing? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended not to stay in an environment with 85 dB(A) sound/noise for more than 8 hours per day. Beyond 85 dB(A), a ‘3-dB exchange rate’ applies, which means with every 3 dB elevation in loudness, the maximum exposure time should cut in half. We probably won’t carry a sound level meter with us to measure the surrounding sound level, so how do we know if the environment is too noisy? A simple rule is that if you need to talk extra loud when your friends are only a few feet away, the background noise may hurt your hearing. Go somewhere quieter or use earplugs!

How to protect your ear in noisy workplace or environment?

Don’t act until hearing difficulties emerges. Start protecting your hearing now! Below are some tips to protect your ear:

  • Use earplugs or ear muffs in noisy places such as firework show, concert, party, count-down event, construction site etc.
  • 60/60 Rule: When listen to music or watching video using portable devices such as smartphone, make sure the volume not exceeding 60% of the maximum output of the device and the duration should be 60 minutes or less.

Occupational Deafness and Compensation

Occupational deafness is one of the most common occupational diseases recorded in Hong Kong. It is caused by prolonged exposure to noise in the working environment leading to permanent damage of nerve cells of the inner ear, the resulting hearing impairment is incurable. When a person works in a noisy environment, the damage caused to his hearing will be in direct proportion to the noise intensity and the duration of exposure.

The following are some symptoms of occupational deafness:

  • Encountering difficulty in communicating with others in person or over the phone
  • Feeling the need to raise the volume of radio and television
  • Speaks loudly
  • Tinnitus: a constant or intermittent “buzzing, hissing, rushing etc.” sound in the ear(s) or centrally in the head, causing annoyance, difficult to concentrate at work and/or insomnia

For details, please visit the website of Occupation Deafness and Compensation Board.(http://odcb.org.hk/en_index.php)

Eligibility of Compensation

In Hong Kong, occupational deafness compensation (including financial and rehabilitation service subsidization) is delivered to those who fulfill the requirements of occupation, duration in such occupation and degree of hearing impairment as stated in the ‘Occupational Deafness (Compensation) Ordinance’ by the Occupational Deafness and Compensation Board. For details, please visit the website of Occupational Deafness and Compensation Board. (http://odcb.org.hk/en_index.php)

Should I clean my ears with cotton buds?
What the audiologists say:

Naturally the earwax moves slowly out of your ear canal. Using cotton buds can push the earwax deeper into the ear canal. It is advised to see an ENT specialist for earwax removal if you feel you have a problem with earwax.

Dr. Nelson Wong
What should I do if my ears always feel wet?
What the audiologists say:

It is suggested to consult an ENT specialist if such problem lasts for a long period of time.

Dr. Nelson Wong
Can tinnitus be cured?
What the audiologists say:

It is important to understand that tinnitus is a symptom rather than an illness, so the problem of tinnitus can only be alleviated.

Dr. Nelson Wong
What are the differences between an over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid and a hearing aid from a hearing aid company?
What the audiologists say:

In a hearing aid company, a hearing test will be done at the beginning, then the hearing aid is set according to the hearing level. More importantly, lifelong fine-tuning is offered; while if you buy an OTC hearing aid, that hearing aid is not customized to the hearing level and no after-sales service is provided .

Dr. Nelson Wong
Will it be too noisy when wearing a hearing aid?
What the audiologists say:

For a first-time hearing aid user, he/she has not been hearing some background sounds for various periods of time owing to the hearing loss, so when putting on the hearing aid, the the background sounds being amplified may sound too loud at the beginning . When the user gets used to the hearing aid usage, he/she may feel better. Additionally with the advancement of noise reduction technology, hearing aid user shall have a much comfortable experience.

Dr. Nelson Wong
Does sleeping with earphones affect my hearing?
What the audiologists say:

When you are sleeping with earphones every night, your ears will be constantly stimulated by music, so after a long period of time, the hearing may be affected eventually.

Dr. Nelson Wong
What is the characteristics of sound?
What the audiologists say:

Sound or noise has two characteristics: Frequency (i.e. pitch) and Loudness

Dr. Nelson Wong
What is frequency?
What the audiologists say:

Sound is the quickly varying pressure wave induced by particle vibration through a medium (air, liquid or solid). The number of pressure variations per second is known as frequency of sound, measured in Hertz (Hz).

The higher the frequency i.e, the more cycles of vibration per second, the higher the pitch. On the other hand, the lower the frequency, i.e., the fewer cycles of vibration per seconder, the lower the pitch would be. The audible frequency range of human ear is from 20 to 200,000 Hz while the major frequencies for speech lies between 500 –4,000 Hz.

Dr. Nelson Wong
How to measure loudness?
What the audiologists say:

Loudness of sound is determined by the degree of particle vibration. A loud sound usually has a larger pressure variation while a weak one has smaller pressure variation. A simpler way is to measure in decibel (dB). The softest sound a normal human ear can detect i s known as the Threshold of Hearing, which uses the hearing threshold as 0 dB.

Dr. Nelson Wong