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Can You Hear Me Now…?
(Please Note: The Chicagoland MG Club recommends you check local and state vehicle laws before using ear plugs when driving!)
You know that driving your MG with the top down - and forgetting the sun block - can cause sunburn. But did you know that your MG might also be causing you to lose your hearing?
Noise induced hearing loss is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in this country. Permanent damage to the ears can occur from a single loud sound (such as an explosion) or from noise exposure over a period of time. Because noise induced hearing loss is painless and gradual, most people don't realize they are losing their hearing until it's too late. Often they will think that everyone mumbles or that people just don't speak clearly.
Most of us have left a noisy concert or bar with muffled hearing and ringing in the ears. That ringing, called tinnitus, acts like a warning signal letting us know that we are damaging our ears. The muffled hearing is actually a temporary hearing loss caused from "overloading" our ears with noise. Over time, both the tinnitus and the hearing loss can become permanent.
How damaging a noise is to our ears depends on both the intensity and the duration of the noise. The maximum exposure level for ears without hearing protection is 90 dB over eight hours. For every 5 dB increase in volume, the maximum exposure time is cut in half.
Informal research of a 1962 MGA Mark II showed damaging noise levels beginning at 55 mph. As the speed increases, so do the noise levels. At 70 mph, noise levels were loud enough that an unprotected ear could suffer permanent hearing loss in about four hours.
There are several steps you can take to prevent noise induced hearing loss, including limiting your exposure to loud sounds, reducing noise levels around you, and using hearing protection such as earplugs. For MG enthusiasts, the first two steps aren't usually viable options. So the best bet is to use earplugs whenever you are exposed to loud sounds. You can tell if a sound is too loud if you have to raise your voice to talk to someone who is about an arm's length away.
Earplugs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from plastic pre-molded plugs, to the classic foam plug, and even custom made molds. Disposable earplugs can be purchased at sporting good stores, hardware stores, and mass retailers, like Target. There are endless varieties on the market so try several different types to find what works best for you. The most effective earplug is the one that is comfortable to the wearer and therefore is worn most consistently. Typically, disposable earplugs cost less than $3.00 a pair and can be worn several times. Just be sure to get a new pair when the plugs become hard or lose their shape.
Custom made earplugs can be purchased from your local audiologist. These plugs can last several years and tend to be very comfortable since they are made just for your ears. Prices vary by location.
Believe it or not, there's a lot of science behind those ordinary looking earplugs. Homemade earplugs (such as cotton) provide essentially no protection from damaging noise.
Noise induced hearing loss is almost 100% preventable. But once the damage occurs, it lasts a lifetime. There are no surgeries or medicines that will cure a noise induced loss. And even though hearing aids can help to make sounds louder, they do not necessarily make speech clearer. And lest you think that a hearing loss is an inevitable part of aging, you should know that even the elderly members of the Mabaan tribe from the Sudan, can hear a whisper from almost 100 feet.
So the next time you hop in the MG for a road trip, remember to wear your earplugs. Your hearing may depend on it!
Nancy Gallihugh, MS, CCC-A, is a certified Audiologist with Constance Brown Hearing Centers in Kalamazoo, specializing in Clinical and Industrial Audiology, and hearing conservation.