Facts on Noise Exposure and Hearing Loss
- 20 million Americans are exposed daily to dangerous noise levels.
- Noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss, especially in young people.
- Health statistics suggest a trend of noise-induced hearing loss occurring at younger ages.
- Noise-induced hearing loss is cumulative, permanent, and preventable.
When is Noise Dangerous?
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs gradually and without pain. Noise may damage hearing if you have to shout over it to make yourself heard. Experts agree that continued exposure to noise of 85 dB or louder, over time, will eventually harm hearing. In general, the louder the sound, the less time required before hearing is lost.
How Damage Occurs
Loud noise assaults the delicate hair cells of the inner ear. With extremely loud or extended noise exposure entire groups of hair cells can be injured or torn away. Because hair cells are damaged, a permanent hearing loss results. Even a one-time exposure to a very intense sound, like a firecracker or a gunshot at close range can result in a hearing loss.
Examples of Dangerously Loud Recreational Activities:
- Video Arcades - (110 dB)
- Firecrackers - (125-155 dB at a distance of 10 feet)
- Live music concerts - (120 dB and above)
- Gunshots - (150-167 dB)
- Movie Theatres - (118 dB)
- Health Clubs and Aerobic Studios (120 dB)
- Sporting Events (127 dB)
- Motorboats - (85-115 dB)
- Motorcycles - (95-120 dB)
- Snowmobiles - (99 dB)
- "Boom cars" - (140 dB and above)
Try to limit exposure time to noisy activities and wear adequate hearing protection, such as foam or silicone plugs or muffs. These can be purchased many times at sporting good stores or safety equipment stores or from an audiologist's office.
Noise at Home
Normal household products contribute to the total noise to which we are exposed. Loud home appliances, toys, televisions, and sound systems can cause hearing loss and pose a risk for stress-related health problems.
Things you can do:
- Turn down the volume on the television and radio.
- Wear hearing protection (ear plugs or muffs) when using loud equipment like lawnmowers or leaf blowers.
- Buy quieter products (often printed in "dB’s" on the packaging.
- Limit the number of noisy appliances that run in the kitchen at the same time.
Occupational Noise Exposure
Work-related hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases in the United States (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
- 1 in 4 workers exposed to high levels of noise will develop a hearing loss
- Professions at risk include firefighters, police officers, factory workers, farmers, construction workers, military personnel, heavy industry workers, musicians, and entertainment industry professionals.
- Even office staff employed in crowded office buildings with phones ringing and the constant hum of computers, air conditioners, and fans are faced with the increased stress that noise creates. Noise also reduces concentration and increases the possibility of work-related injuries. *OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines require employers to develop and implement a noise monitoring program when any employee is exposed to an average of 85 dB of noise for 8 or more hours a day.
Warning Signs that Noises are too Loud
- You can’t hear someone three feet away.
- You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.
- You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.
- You have difficulty understanding speech; that is, you can hear people talking but you cant’ understand them.
What to Do?
If you experience any of these warning signs, you should have your hearing tested by a qualified audiologist who can assess how noise in your life may be threatening your hearing health.
This information is provided by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Consumer brochure," Noise: Bad for your hearing, Bad for your health!"