June 29, 2022 – Kendall Johnson, of Sioux Falls, SD, was a teenager when he had surgery to try to restore his hearing. While he and his friends lighted up fireworks on the Fourth of July one summer, one exploded right in front of his face. Johnson says he lost nearly all his hearing that night and needed surgery to repair his eardrum.
“I can’t tell the difference between left or right anymore because of the tinnitus; it’s hard to differentiate between the two ears,” says Johnson.
Cases like Johnson’s are why the American Academy of Audiology is warning Americans to protect their hearing this Fourth of July.
Fireworks can cause permanent hearing loss in children and adults. According to the academy, they can be as loud as 155 decibels. For comparison, the noise from a jackhammer is 100 decibels and the sound of a jet taking off is 150 decibels from 80 feet away. The CDC warns that any noise above 120 decibels is enough to damage your hearing.
Backyard fireworks like the ones Johnson used are the most harmful for your hearing, it says.
“Never hold a firework or firecracker, with the intention to throw it before it explodes,” says Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, president of the American Academy of Audiology. “If it is anywhere close to you when it explodes, your hearing can be immediately and permanently damaged.”
Children are especially vulnerable to hearing loss from loud fireworks, she notes, as their “excitement and curiosity” about them may draw them closer to the damaging noise.
There are many causes of hearing loss, such as aging, diseases, and certain medications. But the National Institute on Aging says that loud noises are one of the most common.
Lindsey Jorgensen, AuD, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of South Dakota, says that loud sounds like fireworks cause damage to the cochlea, the “organ of hearing” inside the inner ear. The American Academy of Audiology says that signs of hearing loss can include muffled hearing, a hard time understanding conversations, and hearing ringing or buzzing noises after being around loud fireworks.
Johnson has had hearing loss since the fireworks incident as a teen. But he says that tinnitus is the worst issue he’s had from it.
“Losing hearing is one thing, and surgery is one thing, but tinnitus is another thing,” he says. “Tinnitus is a killer. If you could solve tinnitus, people will give you whatever they have to come up with a cure.”
Avoiding noisy situations is the best way to prevent hearing loss, according to the CDC. Earplugs and earmuffs can protect your hearing from loud fireworks while you celebrate. It’s possible that hearing loss may last only a few minutes or hours after a loud noise, according to Jorgensen. But she warns that it’s “hard to predict if hearing loss will recover, so protecting your hearing when you are around loud noises is the best way to ensure protection from hearing loss.”
You can read about more ways to prevent hearing loss from loud noises here.