Hearing loss is common; 23% of Americans aged 12 or older have hearing loss that
significantly impairs the quality of their lives. An estimated 25.4 million Americans
have mild, 10.7 million moderate, 1.8 million severe, and 0.4 million have profound
hearing loss in the better ear. By age 70 or older, more than half of adult Americans
suffer from some degree of hearing loss in both ears. Trouble understanding conversations
in noisy situations is a common sign of a form of hearing loss.
Hearing loss has important deleterious consequences for academic success, employment,
health, and social wellbeing. The hearing-impaired person may feel isolated,
angry, embarrassed, depressed, and may suffer a loss of self-esteem. Family
members and co-workers are often frustrated by the difficulty in communicating
with individuals who avoid seeking help for their hearing problem because they
think wearing a hearing aid would be embarrassing or demeaning.
Disease involving the ear and simply aging may contribute to hearing loss, but the
commonest preventable cause is exposure to loud sounds for an extended time.
Damage to the fragile structures of the ears in childhood or youth may lead to hearing
loss decades later. Unfortunately, noise-related hearing loss is usually irreversible.
So, avoiding loud noise is essential to keeping hearing intact. Workplace
noise used to be the leading cause of hearing loss, but today it is loud recreational
noise, for example, from concerts, clubs, MP3 players, and smartphones. Damage
to hearing from loud noises depends on how loud the noises are and the length of
exposure. Infants and children are more susceptible to hearing damage from loud
sounds than adults are.
There are standards for permissible exposure to sound, according to loudness (in
decibels) and duration. For example, 8 hours of exposure to 85 decibels (dB), similar
to loud traffic, is considered permissible according to the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the CDC. For every three dBs over
85dB, the permissible exposure time before possible damage can occur is cut in
half. For example, the permissible time exposure for 94 dBs, the level of a power
lawnmower or hairdryer, is only one hour. Long-term exposure to 85dB can cause
hearing loss, so it is not a safe sound level for anyone. The EPA has calculated
that the average noise level to prevent hearing loss should be no more than a 70dB
time-weighted average over 24 hours. A rock concert could reach levels of 105-
115 dBs, and any exposure beyond a few minutes could damage hearing. Lower
levels, such as between 80dB and 90dB, can cause permanent hearing damage if
you are exposed to them for many hours every day.
Some measures of loudness:
• Normal conversation: 60-65dB
• A busy street: 75-85dB
• Lawn mower/heavy traffic: 85dB
• Forklift truck: 90dB
• Hand drill: 98dB
• Heavy truck 20-25 feet away: 95-100dB
• Motorbikes: 100dB
• Movies: some films regularly top 100dB during big action scenes
• Disco/nightclub/car horn: 110dB
• MP3 player on loud: 112dB
• Chainsaw: 115-120dB
• Rock concert/ambulance siren: 120dB
There are many precautions to take to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss:
• Turn down the volume of your television, radio, or music. You should be able
to have a comfortable conversation with someone who is 6-7 feet away from
• Use headphones that block out or cancel outside noise, rather than turning
up the volume. In-the-ear, ear-bud style headphones are less effective at
keeping out background noise.
• Use the volume limiter when listening to MP3 players. Follow a 60:60 rule for
listening to an MP3 player safely, listen to music at 60% of the maximum
volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
• Use ear protection equipment such as earmuffs or earplugs when working in a
noisy environment. Don’t tolerate loud noise at work.
• Avoid loud concerts or use ear protection at loud concerts and at other events
where there are high noise levels.
• Know the symptoms of common causes of hearing loss, such as ear infections,
and get prompt treatment for them.
• Visit a health care professional if you or your child are experiencing hearing
problems. An audiologist can determine if you need Personal Sound
Amplification Products (PSAPs or hearing aids) and help with the choice
and adjustment of a PSAP.
• The key to healthy hearing is prevention— know how much loud sound you’re
exposed to and avoid loud noises.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.