Do you ever find yourself wondering about how loud is too loud? Did you know that if noise is too loud it can affect your hearing permanently? Hearing loss is the 3rd most common chronic condition in the US, more common than cancer and diabetes. This is why the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) founded National Protect Your Hearing Month in 2008. Every October the NIDCD holds a national campaign to raise awareness around noise-induced hearing loss
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
To understand how noise-induced hearing loss occurs, it’s important to understand how our hearing works. Sound is collected by the outer ear and travels down the ear canal where it vibrates the eardrum, which stimulates the tiniest bones in our body, which in turn vibrates the cochlea. This tiny snail-shaped organ is filled with fluid which creates ripples when stimulated by the sound and these ripples stimulate tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia. Stereocilia are remarkable in that they convert audio information into electrical pulses which are transmitted to the auditory cortex in the brain where sound is analyzed and comprehended. When sound reaches a certain threshold the stereocilia vibrate enough to be pushed up against the membrane which holds them, causing them to shatter and even become destroyed. This is the cause of sensorineural hearing induced by noise.
The Prevalence of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
While hearing loss is commonly associated with the elderly an ever-increasing noisy world is causing more people of younger generations to have hearing loss. In 2017 the NIDCD in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ran a study in which they determined that approximately 24% of US adults ages 20 to 69 show signs on standard hearing tests in one or both ears which is most likely due to loud noise. The CDC estimates that this equates to about 40 million US adults aged 20-69 years
How Loud is Too Loud?
The intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB) and any sound louder than 85 decibels can vibrate your inner ear to the point where it can damage the stereocilia in your inner ear. It is not just the level of sound but the length of exposure. Your ears can withstand 85 decibels for about 8 hours before damage starts to incur. However, as the decibel rises the amount of time is cut in half. 88 decibels will damage the ear in just four hours. By the time the sound reaches nearly 100 decibels, it may take 15 minutes for permanent hearing damage to occur but another increase of 10 decibels can damage the ears in just one minute!
Sources of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Many people in the US are exposed to excessive sound at work. A shift of eight hours or more exposes many to loud noises. However, more than 1 in 2 US adults with noise-induced hearing damage do not have noisy jobs. This means the exposure is likely recreational. Many people are not aware that something like everyday traffic, lawnmowers or headphones can cause significant damage in just a short amount of time. However, personal listening devices such as smartphones and Mp3 players can easily reach volumes of 100dB or more. What’s more, with endless streaming possibilities a younger generation consumes hours of media into their ears, causing a younger population to be affected by hearing loss.
Negative Effects of Hearing Loss
While hearing loss begins in the ears it affects communication. This can cause rifts in relationships at home and at work. In a professional or educational setting people with untreated hearing loss struggle with concentration and communication. This has been shown to affect people’s earnings by as much as $30,000 annually when compared to those with normal hearing. Untreated hearing loss has also been shown to affect cognitive functioning. Even a mild case of hearing loss has been linked to lower scores on cognitive tests than those with normal hearing and has even been linked to higher risks of dementia.
Prevent Hearing Loss from Noise
Hearing loss is permanent so whatever you can do now to protect your hearing is invaluable. When you can turn down the volume and if you can’t, step away for a moment. Protective earplugs and earmuffs can lower decibels from anywhere from 15-33dB. If you do have hearing loss it is important to have it checked. Use ‘Protect Your Hearing Month’ as a call to action and schedule a hearing test today.