All ears with Shaare Zedek's ear expert

An interview with Dr. Ronen Perez, director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s otology unit, who specializes in ear disease and surgery.

Ronen Perez (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ronen Perez
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Can high decibel levels at social events cause temporary and/or permanent hearing loss?'
Yes, they can. Excessively loud volume at events commonly causes temporary hearing loss. And with long or repeated cumulative exposure, the loss can become permanent.
How does noise physically damage the inner ear?
Noise consists of mechanical pressure waves that cause vibrations in the air and in the fluid of the ear. When too powerful, these pressure displacements can cause damage to delicate cells and structures in the inner ear.
Over time, the tiny sensitive projections of the cells (cilia) may bend, lose their rigidity, become shortened or coagulate together.
This impairs hearing. In extreme cases, acoustic trauma from loud sounds such as a gunshot or explosions can cause immediate severe damage resulting from rupture and tearing of ear membranes.
How common is hearing loss in Israel, and how much of it is caused by loud noise?
About 15% of the general population here over age 20 has some degree of hearing loss, and this increases with older population segments.
More than half of people over 75 years old suffer from hearing loss. A good number of these cases are caused by overexposure to loud noise.
Is a person aware when his/her hearing is being damaged? Is there a commonsense rule of thumb to use to determine whether noise may be damaging one’s hearing?
Your hearing can be damaged without your being aware of it. One useful rule of thumb you can use to judge whether noise is putting your hearing at risk is when you have difficulty hearing yourself or others.
When does temporary hearing impairment become permanent damage?
We can’t put our finger on exactly when temporary hearing impairment becomes permanent, but when exposure to high sound intensity is for long periods or is repeated, it can become irreversible. The ear has only a limited ability to repair itself.
Does the law (in theory) adequately safeguard guests’ hearing at weddings? Is the law adhered to?
The 85-decibel cut-off is a generally accepted figure, but no two people are the same; there are individuals whose hearing can be damaged even at that noise level and below, particularly when exposed for prolonged periods. Moreover, it is not always a straightforward issue to measure the intensity of noise. The law is an important step towards safeguarding the public from the serious risk posed by such situations. Unfortunately, the law is too often not adhered to.
Do earplugs help when you are being subjected to dangerous decibel levels?
Earplugs do attenuate the noise to some degree. Good quality earplugs properly inserted into the ear can reduce the volume of the sound being channeled to the inner ear by 15 to 25 decibels. This has some value but is by no means a reliable antidote to loud environments, even if the earplugs are not removed for the duration of the affair – which is usually not the case, as one of the reasons to go to weddings is to socialize and enjoy talking with people you haven’t seen in a long time, and earplugs prevent that.
While earplugs address one of the routes that sound travels, it is important to keep in mind that loud noise reaches the inner ear in other ways, too – through the bone and through soft tissue. So even though earplugs attenuate noise entering into the ear canal, excessively loud noise can still be doing its damage through alternative routes.
One sees young children – even babies in carriages – at weddings. Are young ones less at risk than adults from excessive noise at events?
Babies and children have younger body parts, but their hearing is no less vulnerable to noise than that of adults. Babies, with their lives ahead of them, have a longer time to be exposed to noise causing long-term damage, so caring parents should not only prevent noise abuse at events such as weddings but also foster awareness and habits to teach children to safeguard the blessing of healthy hearing into their future.
Moreover, fetuses can hear quite well through the soft tissue and amniotic fluid of their pregnant mothers.
Many parents-to-be are unaware that the developing inner ears of their unborn child are very much endangered when exposed to loud and prolonged noise such as the music at weddings.
Do you and your family take precautions when you attend events such as weddings? What do you recommend?
The first thing we do is to sit as far away as possible from the source of sound, as the farther you are, the less you are exposed to the intensity of the sound waves. Secondly, I use earplugs to attenuate the noise.
Thirdly, it is useful to go out of the events hall once in a while and give the ears a rest. If the music is just too loud and persists, then I admit that I will leave the wedding before I would otherwise want to. This has happened to us more than a few times over the years. I strongly recommend that wedding guests take these measures and more, and I implore hosts of weddings to increase their awareness – not their volume! Weddings are not the only source of loud noise that we are exposed to. What other noises in our environment should we be aware of? The modern world can be a noisy place. Noise pollution from vehicles, construction, blaring music in bars and other places of entertainment can all contribute to noise-induced hearing loss, as can prolonged listening to content at high volumes on personal electronic devices using ear buds. People who value their hearing should endeavor to eliminate all voluntary exposure to loud noises.