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February 27, 2003

Can you hear me now?

From: Hilltop Times,UT - 27 Feb 2003

by Gary Boyle
Hilltop Times staff

"It's a screen test that uses pure tones and gives you an idea if there is a problem that needs to be investigated more thoroughly by an audiologist, who looks for a medical problem or damage to the ear," said Health and Wellness Center director Lt. Col. Carolyn Bennett, who was an Air Force audiologist researcher specializing in hearing conservation before she came to Hill. "This is the first step in determining if there is a problem or if everything is okay. This screening is available to everybody who has access to the base. If you don't have access to the base clinic we'll give you the results of the test and you can take them to your own physician."

The test uses a manual audiometer and is similar to the hearing test many grade school children take. The participant has headphones put on while the conductor operates the machine, which transmits tones. The participant then raises a corresponding hand in response to which ear the sound is heard from. The test takes approximately 15 minutes. Appointments last about 20 minutes to include counseling and to allow the conductor to check the participant's ear for blockage, such as wax, that may be causing hearing abnormalities.

It's not surprising that noise is the chief culprit in hearing loss on an Air Force base that has two fighter wings, an active depot and a variety of on-going construction projects.

"We're not just concerned with noise in the workplace, but also what they do elsewhere. Snow blowers and vacuum cleaners, mowing the lawn or using power tools, riding your snowmobile or going to a rock concert," said Bennett." A good rule of thumb is if you're three feet apart from someone and you have to raise your voice to talk to them and hear what they're saying, you need hearing protection. But even the best hearing protection is useless if you don't use it right, that's why we'll show people how to use earplugs and make those available whenever possible."

The standard foam earplugs should be rolled into a thin, straight point. Then pull the outer ear back, this will straighten the ear canal, and insert the plug as far as it will go. Only a small portion of the plug should be visible. Once the plug is in the ear it will begin to expand and thus provide the adequate protection. For some the thought of sticking an expanding foreign object in the ear goes against a lifetime of indoctrination against placing anything smaller than an elbow in such a delicate place.

"That old wives tale has caused a lot of damage to people's hearing over the years. Don't put things like beans or stick a pencil in your ear, that would be bad, but earplugs are okay," said Bennett. "For every three decibels equals half the amount of time you can be exposed before permanent damage is done. For example at 85 dB a person can be exposed for eight hours, but at 100 dB, the average rock concert is 105 dB, a person can only be exposed for seven minutes before damage is done. There are some noisy toys out there as well and babies are holding those right up to their ears."

Where as eardrums can be repaired by a doctor the microscopic hairs of the inner ear's cochlea cannot and it is the hairs that take the sound and convert it to energy that is sent to the brain for comprehensive interpretation.

"Cochlea hairs can never be repaired, all you can do is get a hearing aid, which no matter how good will never match the original product. The longer you're exposed to noise the greater the damage that is done to your hearing," said Bennett.

For a free hearing screening, call the HAWC at Ext. 7-1215.

© 2003 Hilltop Times