One of the most common misconceptions about hearing loss is that only older adults are impacted by it. The reality is that anyone can develop hearing loss at any age. A major cause of hearing loss is loud noise which people across the age spectrum are exposed to. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion teens and young adults are currently at high risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss. The great news is that this is preventable so practicing safety measures can go a long way towards protecting your hearing health!
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that is caused by one-time or consistent exposure to loud noise. This permanent hearing loss occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. These sensory cells help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that then get sent to the brain. Once the brain receives these signals, it can further analyze and assign meaning to the sound you hear. Loud noise can damage these hair cells by causing them to lose sensitivity and die over time, reducing their capacity to perform an essential function that allows us to hear.
Unlike other types of cells we have, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. Humans are born with all of the hair cells we will ever have. This means that once they are damaged, this is permanent. There are also no medical interventions that can replenish these cells or repair the damage, causing chronic hearing loss.
How loud is too loud?
You are likely questioning what sound levels can affect one’s hearing. Sound is measured in units known as decibels and noise above 85dB can be hazardous for hearing health. This is the equivalent of busy city traffic, a vacuum cleaner, and a noisy restaurant. According to experts, people can be exposed to sound at 85dB for 8 hours per day without it negatively impacting their hearing. But for any levels that exceed this, exposure time needs to be significantly adjusted. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) guidelines for safe listening, the exposure time should be reduced by half for every 3-decibel increase of noise after 85dB:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 30min
Going beyond this can affect the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to permanent damage that causes hearing loss.
Tips to prevent noise-induced hearing loss
Though we are constantly surrounded by and absorbing sound, there are simple and effective safety measures you can practice to reduce your risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss. A few helpful tips include:
- Wear hearing protection. There are different types of protective wear for your ears that reduce the amount of loud noise you absorb and its impact. This includes earbuds, headphones, and earmuffs. These items provide a physical barrier for your ears which protects them from absorbing loud noise.
- Invest in noise-canceling headphones. Noise cancellation technology reduces background noise. This prevents people from needing to increase the volume on their devices while navigating louder environments. Noise-canceling headphones allow people to listen to audio safely in a wider range of settings.
- Reduce noise exposure. In addition to wearing hearing protection and investing in noise-canceling headphones, there are additional ways you can reduce your noise exposure. This includes taking different routes that may be quieter, avoiding noisier settings during peak hours, and maintaining lower volume settings while watching tv and listening to music.
- Measure sound. Measuring the sound in the environments you are regularly in and moving through can help you assess how long you can safely be exposed to the noise level in those spaces. You can download an app that measures the decibels in any given environment and then adjust your exposure time accordingly.
- Take listening breaks. We are constantly exposed to, absorbing, and processing varying levels of sound. Be sure to implement listening breaks throughout the day where you power off and sources of noise. This gives your ears and brain some needed rest time!
In addition to these tips, a great way to be proactive about your hearing health is by having your hearing regularly tested. Call us to learn more about how you can prioritize your hearing health!