Noise-induced hearing loss: How noisy is your world?

Tags: workplace safety

Driving in traffic, mowing the lawn, playing an instrument, listening to an MP3 player, going to the movies, concerts or athletic games – all the types of noise people experience day after day. Each activity by itself might not be enough to cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) but add it all up and over time some people may experience hearing loss.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communicative Disorders, approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to noise.

Noise-induced hearing loss is usually painless, progressive and always permanent but can also be 100 percent preventable. Wearing ear protection can prevent damage from both, impulse or continuous sound.

NIHL happens when a person is exposed to sound that is over 85 decibels and causes damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. The loud sound can be an intense impulse sound like an explosion or it can be a continuous sound, like music or a jackhammer, over a long period of time.

How loud it too loud?

Following the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) guidelines, a person can be exposed to noise at 85dB for up to 8 hours. When the decibels go up to 88dB then the exposure time is cut in half to only 4 hours. As the volume level increases the amount of time a person can safely be exposed decreases.

For example, a rock concert is about 100dB but the exposure time is only 15 minutes at that decibel level which means a person may cause damage to their hearing if the exposure time is longer than 15 minutes.

“Many people in their everyday activities are exposing themselves to noise levels over 85 decibels,” said Dr. William Slattery, practicing physician in the House Clinic and director of Clinical Studies at the House Ear Institute. “Research shows that repeated or extended exposure to noise levels over 85dB can lead to hearing loss. Wearing ear plugs anytime noise levels will be over 85dB is extremely important. The hearing loss can be so gradual over time that it really goes unnoticed until there is a significant loss.”