From factory workers to helicopter pilots, it takes lots of people willing to work noisy jobs to keep the world running. In New Orleans, musicians, nightclub staff and other members of the entertainment industry contribute greatly to the culture, playing the soundtrack for second lines and providing an inexhaustible supply of enjoyment for locals and tourists alike. Sadly, many are plagued with noise-induced hearing loss, which can affect both their professional and personal lives. Audiologist Ashley Musso Brewer of New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center (1636 Toledano St., 897-2606; www.noshc.org) discusses noise-induced hearing loss and how to prevent it.
Q: How common is noise-induced hearing loss?
A: According to the American Academy of Audiology, 1-in-3 people will develop hearing loss as a result of noise exposure. Hearing loss in general, not just noise-induced, is the third most common health problem in the United States. Hearing loss occurs in 36 million Americans, and more than half of them are under age 65. That includes musicians, people who work with heavy machinery or in factories, people exposed to explosions, military, etc.
Q: What steps can people in the entertainment industry take to prevent or slow hearing loss?
A: People in the entertainment industry can prevent hearing loss through education: understanding how noise affects their hearing and how hearing loss can affect their lives. We would love for all musicians and those working with music or at music venues to wear hearing protection. Most people will complain that they can't hear as well with earplugs, but there are other alternatives. You can purchase custom-fit musician's earplugs which ... act as a volume knob, decreasing loudness while maintaining accurate levels of sound. These earplugs have filters in them to allow you to hear conversations and music while still dampening the noise and protecting your hearing. Sometimes people feel it's not cool to wear hearing protection, so they won't. Some musicians feel they can't tune their instruments, sing correctly or hear others in the band if they have hearing protection in their ears. However, as they lose their hearing, they won't be able to tune their instruments or sing at the correct pitch, because they're not hearing normally.
Q: Are non musicians who work closely with musicians (such as bartenders and band managers) at risk of hearing loss to the same degree as performers?
A: People who work with musicians like bartenders, bouncers and sound technicians are also at risk to develop noise-induced hearing loss, especially if they are exposed to intense music daily.
Q: What types of hearing loss are there?
A: There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural and mixed. Conductive hearing loss involves the outer and/or middle ear and is usually caused by ear infections, wax impaction or a malformation of the bones in the middle ear.
Typically, it is only a temporary hearing loss and medication or surgery can remedy it. Sensorineural hearing loss affects your inner ear and cannot be corrected or reversed. This occurs from a multitude of things such as age, medical problems and especially noise. Mixed hearing loss is simply a combination of both types.
Q: What are some signs that you are losing your hearing?
A: According to the American Academy of Audiology, the signs include tinnitus, which is described as hearing sounds — especially ringing, buzzing or chirping — when there is no actual source for the sounds; difficulty hearing people in noisy environments like parties or bars; asking people to repeat things; often feeling like people mumble, and having difficulty understanding people when they are not facing you; and having to raise the volume on the television.
Q: Can hearing loss affect your personal life?
A: Hearing loss can definitely affect your personal life. People with hearing loss often feel withdrawn and socially isolate themselves because they cannot hear. People with untreated hearing loss report depression and anxiety. Noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed. Once the damage is done, it's done.