We are living in a noisy world –  and it keeps getting noisier. Trying to find a restaurant that encourages thoughtful conversation, or a weekend afternoon without lawn mowers and ear-lethal leaf blowers can challenge anyone looking for peace and quiet. Some vehicles are boom-boxes on wheels, and pop music seems nothing but amped-up screaming.

Movie previews in theaters double up the Dolby and despite claimed changes, TV ads continue to assault eardrums. Life is upping the volume all around and everywhere.

 Bigger may be better in Texas, but louder seems to be laying claim to every state in the Union. And louder is hardly better for one’s hearing.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, warns:

“Noise is all around you, from televisions and radios to lawn mowers and washing machines. Harmful sounds – sounds that are too loud or loud sounds over a long time – can damage sensitive structures of the inner ear and cause noise-induced hearing loss.

“More than 30 million people in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis. Hazardous sound levels are louder than 80 decibels, which isn’t as loud as traffic on a busy street. Listening to loud music, especially on headphones, is a common cause of noise-induced hearing loss. Keeping the volume down when listening to music and wearing earplugs when using loud equipment can help protect your hearing.”

 All well and good. Raising one’s consciousness level about hearing damage from environment and personal listening habits can help those concerned to take simple, practical steps to protect themselves: Turning down the volume, for example; avoiding “noise storms” from iPods or indoor rock concerts; using soft earplugs or wearing state-of-the-art “earmuffs;” respecting the City’s ordinance on noise levels; and reading up on the fragility of the inner ear.

What is just as important, however, is one’s sensitivity to others, say, when noising off or listening to one’s music on an open stereo, to turn down the volume; when mowing and blowing the lawn, choosing a reasonable time and place; or asking a waiter to lower the sound of conversation-smothering background music. Listening, after all, is the most important part of communication. For most, nothing creates a sense of presence more than a finely tuned ear. 

Hearing aids are wonderful inventions; technology is making them better and better, if not less expensive. Still, they remain aids and cannot duplicate the real thing. Surgical breakthroughs hold hope for many but, unfortunately, our aging population constantly increases the numbers of hearing-impaired among us.

Taking care of one’s hearing while it is working well should not be necessary advice. In today’s cacophonous and clattering environments, though, such advice is well worth heeding.