#HearingFactFriday: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is becoming an epidemic in the United States! Just last year, the World Health Organization released a report that found over 1 billion teens and young adults are at risk of losing their hearing due to unsafe listening practices. WHO analyzed listening habits of 12-to-35-year-olds in various countries and found nearly 50 percent listened to personal audio devices at unsafe sound levels and about 40 percent are exposed to damaging volumes of music and noise at entertainment venues. 

(See the article here: “A billion at risk for hearing loss from exposure to loud music”)

But what is noise-induced hearing loss and why could smartphones and audio players be so dangerous?

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is simply hearing loss caused by either a one-time exposure to an intense pulse of sound (i.e. an explosion) or ongoing exposure to unsafe sounds and volume levels (i.e. repeated attendance at musical concerts without hearing protection or working in an industrial or construction environment without earplugs). NIHL can also be temporary or permanent.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately “26 million Americans have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to noise at work or in leisure activities.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found in a 2010 study that as many as 16 percent of teens have reported some degree of hearing loss that could’ve been caused by loud noise.

Sounds that result in noise-induced hearing loss include any noise at or above 85dB. The louder the sound, the less time it takes for hearing damage to occur. Additionally, the distance from the source of the sound to your ears and the length of time you are exposed to it all factor in to determining the amount of damage that occurs.

An MP3 player at maximum volume is around 105dB. Considering most audio players work with headphones that focus sound directly around or into ears, this already harmful decibel level is compounded. If headphones funnel sound close to the eardrum (headphones that are designed to insert deeper into the ear canal) risk of hearing damage is even greater as distance from the sound is almost nonexistent. Finally, assume one enjoys listening to music for 30 minutes or maybe even an hour. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lists the following standards for recommended permissible exposure time to certain noise levels.

  • 85dB—8 hours
  • 97dB—30 minutes
  • 100dB—15 minutes
  • 103dB—7.5 minutes 

Depending on the volume at which one listens to music, hearing damage can happen quickly based on the above list of exposure times. Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable.

Here are some tips for protecting hearing:

  • Use hearing protection at loud sporting and musical events
  • Wear earplugs or other form of hearing protection if working in noisy environments
  • Limit the maximum volume level on audio device
  • Get annual hearing screenings

For more tips, click here!


By Starkey Hearing