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Summertime Localization and Outdoor Activities

Since it’s summer, odds are you’ll find yourself outside more than usual, and whether you’re going to street festivals, fairs, amusement or water parks, you’ll want to be aware of your hearing aid’s localization features.

What is localization?

Localization is the ability to determine the direction and placement of sound and noise, and is important for spatial awareness, balance, and location comprehension. Those with hearing loss often have trouble with the localization of sound.

What does this mean for summer activities?

Being able to hear the world around you is an incredibly important part of staying aware and safe, and unlike at home or indoors, the sounds of an outdoor environment can be a bit more unpredictable.

If you find yourself surrounded by a lot of people, you’ll also be surrounded by a lot of sound. To someone with hearing impairment, this could be like hearing a low roar, a flat level of noise coming from no particular direction. This not only limits your interaction with those around you, but can also cause safety issues.

What can you do?

  • Be sure to talk to your audiologist about how your hearing aid processes sound in a 3D environment.
  • Before you buy an aid, research different brands. Oticon Opn™, for instance, has a lot of good localization features, including rapid noise reduction and speech clarity support.
  • If you notice an increased difficulty hearing or comprehending speech or noise in big crowds, don’t ignore it. Maybe you need another hearing assessment, or maybe your aid simply needs an up-to-date adjustment.

Don’t waste your summer worrying about noise outside.

Surprising Levels of Everyday Sounds

So you don’t go to any loud concerts, you don’t work around heavy machinery without proper ear protection, and you always keep your tv and music at a reasonable volume — can you still lose your hearing from the everyday sounds around you?

Absolutely.

ASHA provides a breakdown of sound decibel levels. Though the effect of day to day noise on your hearing is dependent not only on sound level but also on the length of exposure to that sound, some items you might not think twice about can have a noticeable effect on your hearing. An average blow dryer, kitchen blender, or food processor can be measured between 80 – 90 dBA (decibels), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healthy (NIOSH) recommends anyone exposed to noises “85 dBA or louder for more than 8 hours a day” should make efforts to limit their exposure at that level.

A blow-dryer, of course, is not a jet engine, but if you’re exposed to it’s noise level for a long enough time, the effects on your hearing can be comparable.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorder (NIDCD) rates anything above 85 dBA as the level – after 8 hours – at which hearing damage begins to occur. Anything below 85 dB (washing machines, city traffic, vacuum cleaner, normal conversation) is considered safe and exposure for up to 24 hours will not cause any hearing loss.

Pretty self explanatory, though there are still some sounds louder than you might realize.

1.) Driving in a convertible – 85 – 91 db at 55 mph or more.

2.) Electric drill / consumer power tools. Many tools won’t reach over 90 dBa, but some might sneak up to ~115, which means safe level of exposure is dropped from 2 hours to 15 minutes. When using tools, always play it safe and wear ear protection.

3.) Noisy restaurants. They’re not quite on the level of a club or concert, but restaurants can be unexpectedly noisy. According to Noisy Planet, restaurant “reviewers have noted noise level averages of 80 decibels or higher in restaurants around the country.”

For a safety regarding length of exposure, be sure to check out our past blog on sound and decibel levels.

Most sounds you hear day in and day out won’t harm your hearing, and you don’t have to go around carrying a decibel meter or anything (though there are handy measuring apps you can get on your phone). Just remember to wear ear protection while using tools, and avoid any prolonged sound that makes you uncomfortable.