The facts surrounding fireworks and loss of hearing
When it comes to fireworks, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye… or a finger, or two, or three. However, one fact that is often overlooked is that fireworks noise can also contribute to hearing loss. Some aerial firework displays have been recorded to be at more than 120 decibels at a distance of over 500 feet, while firecracker blasts have been registered at more than 170 decibels less than two feet away. To put it in perspective, hearing loss can result from exposure to sounds that exceed 80 decibels.
Generally speaking, hazardous noise exposure is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in the United States, accounting for approximately one third of all hearing impairments, which were estimated to affect about 30 million people in 2009. A cause-and-effect relationship may have been difficult to establish because the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss are typically mild at first. Moreover, not every loud sound is conducive to loss of hearing. Inner ear cells damage depends on the intensity and duration of the sound. There are certain common signs of impaired hearing though, such as an inability to communicate in the presence of background noise that can lead anxiety, stress and fatigue for the individual trying to understand speech. Another frequent side effect is tinnitus, or buzzing or ringing in the ears.
Fireworks are by no means the only cause of hearing loss. As a matter of fact, most people will think of gunshots, loud music or jet engines before they think of fireworks. This helps fireworks fly under the radar and paradoxically turn them into a sort of a silent killer. Fireworks sales have been soaring in the past decades, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars every year. More and more Americans are exposing themselves and their children to this form of noise pollution, unaware or oblivious of its pernicious effects on health in general and hearing in particular. Hearing loss can be permanent and irreversible, but it can also be preventable. The best way to prevent fireworks-related hearing loss is to watch displays from a safe distance and refrain from handling any fireworks devices at home -which can also help prevent burns and eye injuries.
However, if you are of the persuasion that the 4th of July is only once a year and thus it does not count as prolonged exposure, then you’d be half-correct. In that case, at least make sure that you wear disposable earplugs. Moreover, rest and avoid loud noises for a minimum of 24 hours should you experience a muffled sensation to your hearing or ringing in the ears after loud noise exposure, and schedule an appointment with a ear, nose, and throat doctor if the symptoms persist. The otolaryngologist may use a tuning fork among other instruments to assess your hearing -or lack thereof. Remember, Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution, but fireworks are.