As the fourth day of July approaches with its rest and relaxation, burgers and baked beans, red solo cups and lemonade, there is nothing quite like celebrating our country’s ever-so-earned freedoms with fireworks! But, before we oooo and ahhhh over their spectacular beauty, let’s take pause to remember the risks these wonders pose.
With one quick blast, fireworks can roar over 150 sound decibels your way. That is twice the volume of a Boeing 737 departing a runway. Our ears are not designed for this and such a blast can negatively affect our hearing for a lifetime. Even one single loud noise from a firework can damage hair cells in our inner ears for forever. Hair cells, located in the cochlea within our inner ears, are an essential part of our hearing as they transition sound waves into nerve signals. Without them, we do not hear. Unlike some animals, if our hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back.
Decibels are an important measure in noise-induced hearing loss, but other factors that we need to consider are the distance we from that sound signal, as well as the duration of time we are exposed to such a signal. In brief, I am telling you to enjoy your local community’s firework program from afar. At such events we can enjoy fireworks without having to worry about noise induced hearing loss.
For you pyros out there celebrating your freedoms in your own backyard, be sure to wear hearing protection. Simple store bought ear plugs can blunt sound signals by 30 decibels. Be sure to have your friends, family, and children wear them too. You should even consider two layers of hearing protection with both in-the-ear plugs as well as over-the-ear phones. It is important for your audience to be far away from fireworks when viewing, not solely because fireworks pose physical harms, but also because distance will help blunt a 150 decibel sound signal.
Given we have 32,000 hair cells in each inner ear, we may not notice the effects of noise-induced hearing loss until years down the road. Your yearly firework celebrations may not catch up to you until 30-years later. However, I routinely evaluate and treat patients who present with sudden, immediate, and severe noise-induced hearing loss from a single exposure – more commonly a firework or a firearm. With time sometimes our ears can regain some of the initial hearing loss, but our office can help. We can use either oral steroids or locally placed topical steroids to help your hearing recover. A prompt evaluation is key as treatment needs to be started right away for such an immediate loss.