One of the most common ways that people damage their hearing is through loud noise exposure. One time or consistent exposure to loud noise can cause noise induced hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): about 40 million adults in the U.S., ages 20-69, have some degree of noise-induced hearing loss. This highlights how pervasive noise induced hearing loss is, underscoring the importance of protecting your hearing health. Noise induced hearing loss is totally preventable so practicing safety measures can be incredibly beneficial for your hearing health and wellness.
Understanding Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise induced hearing loss occurs in the inner ear. There are thousands of sensory cells in the cochlea which play a major role in how soundwaves are processed. These cells convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals which then get sent to the brain. The brain continues processing these signals, including assigning meaning to them, allowing us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can desensitize and weaken sensory cells, impacting their ability to process soundwaves effectively.
Loud noise can impair sensory cells in ways that results in the brain receiving less auditory information. This forces the brain to use greater resources and energy in trying to detect and process speech as well as sound, this process produces hearing loss. Sensory cells in the inner ear, unlike other types of cells we have, do not regenerate. There are also no ways to fix them if they experience damage which means that the hearing loss that is produced is permanent. This results in chronic noise induced hearing loss.
How Loud is Too Loud?
It is useful to know how loud sound has to be to impact hearing health. Sound is measured in units known as decibels (dB) and according to experts, noise above 85dB can be hazardous for hearing health. For perspective, this is equivalent to busy city traffic, a noisy restaurant during peak hours, and a hair dryer. For sound that exceeds 85dB, exposure time needs to be significantly reduced.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) recommends that exposure time to noise above 85dB be reduced by half for every increase of 3 decibels of sound. Their guidelines for safe listening include:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 30min
Exceeding these safety thresholds can irreparably damage hearing health. It is important to be aware of the noise levels you are exposed to so that you can adjust accordingly.
Everyday Examples of Loud Noise
There are everyday noises you may be exposed to that exceed 85dB. Common examples include:
- Work: according to the Hearing Health Foundation, over 22 million people are exposed to loud noise in the workplace. There are numerous examples of noisy professions including: construction, musicians, veterans/military personnel, pilots, conductors etc.
- Household appliances: numerous types of household appliances create noise that is near or above 85dB:
- power tools: drills, chainsaw etc. – up to 110dB
- blenders, food processors, juicers – up to 100dB
- lawn mower, leaf blower, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer: up to 90dB
- Social activities: social life is another common way people are exposed to excessive noise. Examples include:
- noisy restaurant, bar, party: 85-90dB
- attending a game in an arena, going to a concert in a stadium: up to 110dB
- Electronic devices: streaming audio like music or podcasts from electronic devices, via headphones or earbuds, can reach up to 100dB at the highest volume setting.
These sources of loud noise exposure highlight how common it is to navigate excessive noise that can impact hearing health.
Tips to Protect Your Hearing Health
There are several strategies you can practice to prevent noise induced hearing loss. This includes:
- Wear hearing protection: this includes headphones, earbuds, and earplugs which provide a protective barrier for the ears. This reduces the amount of loud noise that is absorbed. If you work in an environment with loud noise, be sure to discuss hearing protection (and custom options) with your employer.
- Reduce exposure to loud noise: there are many ways you can do this including: maintaining low volume settings on electronic devices, taking listening breaks throughout the day, avoiding noisy settings and opting for quieter places, taking alternate routes to avoid traffic and construction sites etc.
- Test hearing regularly: lastly, be sure to get your hearing tested regularly so you can effectively track and monitor your hearing health.
Integrating these practices in your everyday life can help prevent noise induced hearing loss. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.