Noise Induced Hearing Loss is on the rise in America. Our ears are exposed to higher levels of noise more today than ever before. This hearing loss is permanent, it is also preventable, and it can occur at any age. Over 18 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss are younger than 65. Over 5 million children and young adults under the age of 18 suffer from NIHL. Overexposure to loud noise causes hearing loss and hearing loss is listed as the third leading cause of health problems in individuals over the age of 50.
NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time.
Exposure to harmful sounds causes damage to the sensitive hair cells of the inner ear. These structures can be injured by noise in two different ways: from an intense brief impulse, such as an explosion or from continuous exposure to noise, such as that in a woodworking shop or a factory.
You can protect your hearing and still enjoy the things you do every day. There are three ways to protect your hearing: 1) Walk away from the noise; 2) Turn down the volume ("Turn it to the left"); and 3) Wear ear protection.
If noise is too loud and you don’t have to be near it, avoid it and walk away. Moving ten to fifteen feet from the noise can reduce the intensity that is going into your ears. Avoiding loud sounds can be a highly effective approach for protecting your hearing. Be aware of how long you have been in a noisy environment, exposure time plays a role in NIHL.
TVs, car stereos, and personal stereo listening devices (MP 3 or CD) are often culprits of dangerously high noise. If you have to turn it down or off to understand a person speaking to you an arm’s length away, it is too loud. Most volume controls do not have a safety point for when the decibels (dB) are too high. Turning down the volume will reduce prolonged exposure to harmful decibels. Encourage children and teens to keep the volume at 50%, especially when they are listening to anything with ear buds or ear phones. If someone is arm’s length away from you and you can hear what they are hearing through a listening device through ear buds or ear phones, the volume is probably too loud.
If you know you are going to be around noise over 85 dB (the average lawn mower is 100 dB), the best solution is to wear ear protection. Generic earplugs must be inserted securely into the ear canal for the best seal. Generic earplugs and custom earplugs are available at The Place for Better Hearing. Earmuffs must cover the outer ear. These are known as circum-aural earmuffs.
The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB).
The louder the sound, the less time you can safely listen to it. According to NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health), for every 3 decibels (dB) over 85 dB, the permissible exposure time before possible damage can occur is cut in half. For example, at 85 dB, it takes 8 hours before possible damage can occur. At 88 dB, it takes 4 hours before possible damage can occur. At 91 dB, it takes 2 hours before possible damage can occur. At 94 dB, it takes 1 hour before possible damage can occur, and at 97 dB, it takes 1/2 hour before possible damage to occur. At 100 dB (the loudness level of the average lawn mower), it only takes 1/4 hour before damage occurs. How many people do you know who can mow their lawn in 1/4 hour? Wear ear protection and prevent hearing loss.