Ever since I was a child, I’ve hated the Fourth of July.
Don’t get me wrong, I love barbecues, red, white and blue and baseball games, but fireworks are not for me. I remember hiding under blankets in the car when my parents took me to a fireworks show, because the loud noises really hurt my ears.
I spoke with Cory Portnuff, AuD, PhD, an audiologist at UCHealth and an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Otolaryngology in the CU School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, about this not-so-common issue and what to do to stay safe during Fourth of July festivities
1. I find fireworks to be extremely loud. About how many people experience this sensitivity?
Sensitivity to loud sounds, like fireworks, is part of a set of hearing disorders called “Decreased Sound Tolerance” disorders. About 9 percent of adults find some types of loud sounds uncomfortable to their ears, and it is normal for young children to find fireworks bothersome. Young children will reflexively cover their ears for loud sounds, and sometimes find fireworks to be scary. For anyone, it’s normal to find extremely loud sounds, like nearby explosions, uncomfortable.
Some people also have emotional associations with the sounds of explosions or gunshots. Individuals with a history of trauma from firearms or fireworks may find fireworks shows upsetting or stressful.
2. Is it safe to bring children/babies to a fireworks show?
This is a great question! In general, we advise the use of hearing protection during fireworks shows. This is especially important if the show is close to you. There are a couple of brands of earmuffs that fit children well, and we recommend that children wear hearing protection any time they are near fireworks, gunshots or other high-level sounds. Make sure you’re choosing hearing protection made for children, like EMs for Kids or BabyBanz brands.
3. Can you sustain lasting hearing damage from fireworks shows?
Yes, there is a high risk of hearing damage with nearby fireworks. Nearby explosions can do instantaneous damage to the hearing mechanism, including damaging both the eardrum and inner-ear structures. If you are setting off exploding fireworks yourself, you should be wearing hearing protection. For large fireworks shows that are at a distance, the risk is lower, but it’s still worth considering protecting your ears.
4. Any tips for someone with the sensitivity around the Fourth of July?
If you have sensitivity to loud sounds, you might consider wearing well-fit hearing protection (earplugs or earmuffs) when you’re around fireworks shows. That said, it’s not a good idea to wear earplugs all the time – this can actually make sound sensitivity worse! Instead, wearing them only when you know sound will be at high levels is the best choice. And, of course, if your decreased sound tolerance interferes with your daily life, you should see an audiologist who specializes in decreased sound tolerance.
The UCHealth Hearing and Balance Clinic can help you with management strategies and desensitization therapies designed to reduce the impact of decreased sound tolerance on your life.