Your sense of hearing is incredibly important for connecting with the world around you and engaging in communication. According to the CDC, approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. While age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20-69, a 2011-2012 CDC study indicated at least 10 million adults the U.S. under age 70—and perhaps as many as 40 million adults—have features of their hearing test that suggest hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud noise. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers noted a 31% increase in teenage hearing loss over the last 15 years. For many of the teens surveyed only a slight hearing loss was indicated, but the trend is troubling as researchers speculate that exposure to loud noise is a major contributing factor to this trend.
It is a noisy world out there and protecting your hearing has never been more important no matter your age!
How Does Loud Noise Impact Hearing?
To understand how noise impacts hearing, it is important to understand how hearing works. Sound waves enter the ear canal and vibrate the ear drum to transmit sound from air to the fluid found in the cochlea of the inner ear. Vibrations in the fluid stimulate tiny hair cells in the cochlea to transmit sound to your brain, which interprets the sounds we recognize and understand.
These hair cells are sensitive to large movements which means big, loud noises cause damage to them and can result in these hair cells dying. Once damaged they cannot regrow or be repaired. Therefore, it is important to protect them to from loud sounds.
How Loud is Too Loud?
The risk of damage to hearing depends on three factors: 1) how loud the sound is 2) how close you are to it, and 3) how long the loud noise lasts. Initially, hearing loss may only be temporary after exposure to high intensity decibel sound levels, but if exposure occurs repeatedly the ears lose their ability to bounce back resulting in permanent hearing degeneration.
Noise levels are recorded in decibels or dBA. You can safely listen to sounds at 70 dBA or lower for as long as you want. Sounds at 85 dBA cause damage if you listen to them for more than 8 hours. Every 3 dB above 85 dBA cuts the safe listening time in half! For reference, the National Institute of Health lists the average decibel ratings of some familiar sounds:
- Normal conversation: 60-70 dBA
- Movie theater: 74-104 dBA
- Motorcycles and dirt bikes: 80-110 dBA
- Music through headphones at maximum volume, sporting events, and concerts: 94-110 dBA
- Sirens: 110-129 dBA
- Fireworks show: 140-160 dBA
What Steps Can I Take to Prevent Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders is working to reverse the trend of increasing noise induced hearing loss and suggests these steps to protect your hearing:
1) Know how to recognize hazardous noise levels.
The best rule to follow: if you must shout to have a conversation at an arms-length away (approximately 3 feet), you are probably being exposed to dangerous levels of noise.
2) Turn down noise at the source when possible.
Turn your music down and set a safe volume limit on electronic devices. When listening to music you should be able to hear a conversation easily over the music. Others should not be able to hear music coming from your headphones and should not have to shout for you to able to hear them speaking.
3) Remove yourself from the noise source if you can.
The risk of damage from loud is based on the duration and intensity of the exposure to noise, so taking a break from long periods of noise is important. Electronic devices like MP3 players and iPhones are often singled out for being potentially damaging to younger ears, but noise exposure can be found in many other aspects of daily life including: living in noisy cities, video games, shooting firearms, loud car stereos, motorcycles, crowds at sporting events, NASCAR races, concerts, power tools, and working jobs around loud equipment (farm work, factories, lawn mowing, amusement parks, etc.). When at concerts, sporting events, or working around loud equipment try to find a quiet place to give your ears a period of rest.
4) Wear ear protection whenever steps 2 and 3 aren’t feasible.
Earplugs are ideal for recreational listening, mowing the lawn, shooting firearms, or work requiring use of loud tools or equipment. A variety of relatively inexpensive, disposable plugs can be purchased in retail drug or sporting goods stores. Look for a good snug seal, comfort, and a minimum noise reduction rating of 22 decibels.
Custom fit or high-fidelity plugs can be purchased through an HHUSA hearing care provider and are a great option for musicians, hunters, motor sports participants, and those that work around loud noise. Custom earplugs come in a variety of styles, colors, and feature options including filtered plugs available in different attenuation levels (9 dB, 15 dB, 25 dB, ~30 dB). There’s a custom product available for virtually every need! Call for more information or schedule an appointment today!
These studies on noise induced hearing loss are a wake-up call to the long-term dangers of exposure to loud noise and at HHUSA we encourage everyone to follow these 4 easy steps to protect their ears so they can look forward to a lifetime of listening enjoyment!
- Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012 (PDF). National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(260). 2014.