A growing number of Americans suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) due to dangerous noise levels in the environment. International Noise Awareness Day (April 20), along with Better Hearing Month in May, aim to alert the public to the risk of noisy activities. Hearing health experts at the House Ear Institute (HEI) caution that sounds at or above 85 decibels (dB) may cause permanent hearing loss with prolonged exposure. How loud is too loud?
"In general, if you have to raise your voice to be heard, the environment is too loud for your ears," said researcher Sig Soli, Ph.D., House Ear Institute. "And the louder the sound, the less time it takes before your hearing will be affected. Just 15 minutes at a rock concert can subject you to 100 decibels or more of damaging sound—the maximum duration of exposure for that sound level. Cranking up the volume too high on a stereo or headset can pose a similar risk."
With prolonged exposure, many routine activities such as mowing the lawn, blow-drying your hair, and frequenting nightclubs or loud sports events may pose a risk. HEI experts urge people to wear earplugs when participating in noisy activities. The duration of sound exposure, repeated exposure, intensity of the sound signal, and individual susceptibility can all help determine your risk for noise-induced hearing loss.
"You can reduce your risk for permanent noise-related hearing loss by avoiding noisy settings, wearing earplugs, or taking 15-minute quiet breaks every few hours," said research audiologist Rachel Cruz, M.A., CCC-A, FAAA, House Ear Institute. "For example, if you're attending a nightclub, step outside for a while to give your ears a rest. And, if your ears are buzzing or you notice that sounds seem temporarily muffled or distorted, it's probably time to call it a night."
Visit www.hei.org for more information.