Warn your patients of the 4th of July hazards

As a doctor, whether a general practitioner or an otolaryngologist, you may or may not have experienced an influx of patients complaining of hearing loss symptoms around this same time last year. Whether or not that was the case, you can still take the opportunity this year to warn your patients about the risk of fireworks-induced hearing loss, especially in children but in adults as well. And while you’re at it, you can warn them about the risks of fireworks in general. You can bet your tuning fork people will complain after the fact but will neglect to take the most basic of preventive measures beforehand, such as using earplugs. This is your chance to impart some wisdom before it’s too late and it falls on deaf ears -literally.

Just in case that you are a bit on the skeptical side concerning fireworks-related hearing loss, please note that the University of Maryland Medical Center lists among the causes of hearing loss trauma from explosions, fireworks, gunfire, music shows, and earphones. As you already know, acoustic trauma may cause irreversible damage. It’s not like, say, wax buildup that can be flushed out of the ear with an ear syringe. This is why prevention is so important.

As far as the effects that fireworks noise has on children, the EPA has warned parents, teachers, and childcare providers that recreational activities such as music concerts and sporting events, fireworks, playing with noisy toys and video games, and listening to personal music players can lead to overexposure to noise, and in turn to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), of which five million children suffer. Adverse effects of excessive noise include:

  • Interference with speech and language.   
  • Impaired learning.
  • Impaired hearing.
  • Cardiovascular system disturbance.

This sound thermometer by Dangerous Decibels is a nice little tool to show children -and adults- the type and intensity of noises that can cause noise-induced hearing loss. This way they can see that 85 decibels (right between busy city traffic and gas mower, hair dryer) is the level at which noise becomes noxious. The higher the thermometer goes, the more damaging the noise. Fireworks noise reaches 140 decibels, which puts right up there with a gunshot. That means that the permissible exposure time for fireworks is less than 30 seconds. Unless, that is, people are at a safe distance and/or wear earplugs, which you can recommend them to do, even if they don’t ask. You know, just a little 4th of July piece of advice, on the house.