We are constantly surrounded by varying levels of noise. From electronic devices that we use on a daily basis to commuting to work and social life, we are regularly absorbing different sounds at a range of volumes. With the increased connectivity and integration of digital technology, we are exposed to more sound. This exposure can contribute to various health risks including the development of hearing loss.
Hearing loss is one of the most common, chronic, medical conditions that people navigate today. An estimated 48 million people live with impaired hearing which is the third most prevalent health condition in the U.S. Loud noise is a major cause of hearing loss and growing evidence shows that this risk is increasing. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people globally are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe noise exposure.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
One time or consistent exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss. The ears and brain work together to absorb and process incoming sound information. Integral components of the ear perform specific functions that enable us to both hear and understand what we hear. This includes hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear which work to convert soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain. The brain is then able to further process these signals, assigning meaning to the sound we hear.
Unlike other types of cells that we have, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. This means that people are born with all the hair cells we will ever have so if they are damaged, this damage is permanent. Loud noise can cause these hair cells to lose sensitivity and/or die which prevents their capacity to effectively receive and process soundwaves. Because they do not regenerate and there is no medical intervention to repair these cells, this impact is permanent; resulting in hearing loss.
How Loud is Too Loud?
You may be wondering how loud noise has to be for it to be damaging. Sound is measured in units referred to as decibels (dB) and sound above 85dB is considered potentially hazardous for hearing health. This is the equivalent of busy city traffic, household appliances like a lawn mower or vacuum, and a loud restaurant. People are easily exposed to volumes higher than this on a regular basis!
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), exposure to sound at 85dB for eight hours is within the safety threshold meaning that it is not particularly dangerous. However, for noise levels beyond this, exposure time should be shortened. OHSA outlines that for every 3 decibel increase of sound, exposure time should be cut in half:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 30min
It is incredibly important to be mindful of the noise you regularly navigate at work, in social settings, and while listening to your audio devices. These spaces and electronics can easily exceed 85dB which is hazardous for your hearing health!
Protect Your Hearing Health
Practicing ways to protect your hearing is an incredibly useful way to reduce the risk of developing hearing loss and other associated health risks. There are several safety measures you can integrate including:
- Wearing protective gear: this can include headphones, earbuds, earmuffs etc. which serve as a protective barrier for your ears. This reduces the amount of loud noise you absorb as you move through various environments.
- Lower volume: it is important to be aware of volume so you can better know how long you can be safely exposed to sound. You can measure noise in your environment by downloading an app! When you can, lower volume settings by turning the volume down on electronic devices, rolling up car windows etc.
- Reduce exposure to loud noise: another helpful safety measure is to reduce exposure when you are able to. This can include avoiding settings like restaurants during peak hours, taking listening breaks, always wearing hearing protection in loud venues, avoiding traffic etc.
Practicing these safety measures reduces your risk of hearing loss and supports quality hearing health!