Leaf blowers don’t just affect leaves. They hurt your ears!

We have a summer home, a little cottage on an island in upstate New York. Since the cottage is on an island that we can’t get to in the fall, in the spring I’m faced with huge piles of leaves that have been sitting there for 7 months. I have resorted to using a leaf blower to save my back from raking, and have been doing this for years. I probably spend 6-8 hours with the leaf blower on my back for an entire weekend.

leaf blowing, noise induced hearing loss
@Jürgen Fälchle|Adobe Stock

The noise is more than just a nuisance.

I never gave the noise a second thought, or even considered what the leaf blower was doing to my hearing.  I knew it was noisy, but never realized just how noisy! I’ve been doing a lot of research lately about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) for an online educational series that Advantedge Education will soon be launching. Since May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, it’s the perfect time to tell you about the dangers of leaf blowers and other causes of NIHL.

10 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss.

According to a recent article by Harris and Wick (2016), 10 million people are living with NIHL in the United States, and it’s growing. Did you know that about 22 million Americans are exposed to noises that could be potentially dangerous to their hearing? Even though noise exposure has standards imposed by OSHA, there are many areas of noise exposure that the public should become more aware of.

85 decibels is considered the maximum safe range.

Eight-five decibels (85 dB) is considered the maximum safe range, which is like listening to city traffic inside a car. Football stadiums, (my favorite sport to watch) are notorious for having dangerous levels of noise, as are many other sporting events. The Kansas City Chiefs set a crowd noise record of 142.2 dB and this is extremely dangerous!! And what about those personal listening devices (PDLs) used by our children, adolescents, and just about every young adult that rides a subway in Manhattan? The authors note that 8 to 18 year olds are using these devices, on average, about 7 ½ hours every single day. Earbuds are not our friend.

NIHL is the only cause of hearing loss that can be prevented.

NIHL is preventable and it’s the only cause of hearing loss that is preventable. Even brief exposures to a loud noise can result in non-reversible hearing loss that can lead to changes in the hearing structures in the ear, such as the cochlea, and so awareness is imperative. Parents and healthcare professionals should be educating ourselves and our children to the dangers of PDLs and encouraging listening practices that are safe.

In the spirit of Better Hearing & Speech Month check out this video campaign called “Listen to Your Buds.” It’s an initiative to help young children learn how to use personal audio technology safely. I encourage you to take a look at the video.

3 things to do to protect yourself from dangerous noise exposure

The authors point out that there are 3 things that should be promoted to protect against NIHL.

  1. Decrease the amount of time exposed to the noise source
  2. Increase the distance from the noise
  3. Buffer the noise

Hopefully my ears aren’t too damaged, but I have now begun to wear ear protection in the form of foam ear plugs. However, since the leaf blower is probably around 110 decibels, I should also be wearing double protection with ear muffs (that I don’t own), so I’ll be buying those before my next weekend with the leaf blower.

How do you implement hearing health into your life? Tell us below.