Some sounds we are exposed to are at safe levels and aren’t problematic. Others can be harmful. Approximately 30 million people have noise-induced hearing loss and that number continues to grow, especially with the continued use of headphones and earbuds to listen to music, podcasts, and everything else on our mobile devices.
Why has this problem become so widespread? Unfortunately, the effects of noise are often underestimated because the damage takes place so gradually. Loud noises have become common in our culture and, although traumatizing to our eardrums, there are no externally visible physical effects. As a result, people have traditionally not appreciated the serious impact noise-induced hearing loss has on their daily living until they become frustrated by a permanent communication problem or ongoing ringing in their ears.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), noises are considered dangerous over 85 decibels (or db). Being exposed to sudden or loud sounds over extended periods of time can cause permanent hearing loss. Examples of some common sounds and their decibel levels include:
- Whisper: 40 db
- Traffic: 85 db
- MP3 player at full volume: 105 db
- Sirens: 120 db
- Firearms: 150 db
Everyone is susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss. Signs of hearing loss usually come on gradually and show up as ringing in the ears (or tinnitus), muffled sounds, and difficulty hearing higher frequencies. Unfortunately, hearing loss is not reversible.
To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, reduce your exposure to dangerous sounds. Use ear protection, move away from loud noises, and limit how long you are exposed to the sound. For more on noise exposure and protecting your hearing, visit the OSHA website.