Do you find yourself exposed to loud noise daily? You may be damaging your hearing and not even realize it. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when your ears are exposed to sounds so loud that they cause permanent hearing damage. While most people associate hearing loss with old age, a younger generation has a growing population of individuals who struggle to hear. A 2017 study by researchers from the NIDCD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that NIHL is estimated to affect 24% of US adults ages 20 to 69.
Researchers have reported NIHL in significant numbers among U.S. adolescents which suggests that one in every six to eight middle and high school students (aged 12–19 years) has measurable hearing loss most likely resulting from excessive noise exposure. Because NIHL shows no sign of slowing down, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) holds National Protect Your Hearing Month, every October. This month-long initiative aims to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of NIHL with the hopes of lowering the numbers of people affected across ages and demographics. In the spirit of National Protect Your Hearing Month, let’s explore what you can do to protect your hearing!
What Causes NIHL?
NIHL occurs when tiny hair cells in the inner ear, called stereocilia, are damaged or destroyed. These hairs are responsible for collecting sound, transforming it into electrical signals which are then sent to the auditory cortex of the brain, where sound is processed and comprehended. When sounds reach a threshold, they cause such a vibration within the ear that causes the stereocilia to push against the membrane walls which hold them. This causes them to fracture, causing damage or even destruction, which can cause permanent hearing damage.
How Loud is Too Loud?
You may not lose hearing all at once. Hearing loss is a progressive issue, often starting slowly and becoming worse over time. In instances of low noise exposure over an extended amount of time it will take years for damage to become noticeable, but as the sound level rises the time it takes to cause damage quickly becomes shorter. Sound intensity is measured in decibels. Any sound below 85dB will not harm your ability to hear, but past this threshold, damage can start. However, at 85dB it will take 8 hours of constant exposure before damage begins. However, the way decibels compound quickly halves the amount of time damage incurs. At 88dB, the same amount of damage begins at only half the time. (4 hours). A decibel level of 100dB can damage hearing in just 15 minutes but at 10 more added decibels, damage occurs in just a minute!
Our Noisy World
There are several theories as to why there are more younger people with acquired hearing damage (hearing loss acquired after birth). One common place where hearing loss occurs is in the workplace where it is common for people to work a long shift exposed to noise. However, due to OSHA regulations, requiring employers to provide hearing protection to all employees, damage to hearing at work has declined. The CDC reports that more than 1 in 2 US adults with hearing damage from noise do not have noisy jobs. This means that the cause of hearing loss is coming from other activities, most likely recreational. For instance, it is all too common for people who mow their lawn or do a home carpentry project to not wear hearing protection. Most hearing protection can lower the decibel level by 15-33dB and is required in most professional settings. Most power tools and home lawn equipment average a decibel of 90 which can easily be lower by hearing protection.
Learning to Protect your Hearing
However, the greatest risk to hearing for a younger generation are personal listening devices and headphones. These can easily deliver 100 decibels or more for hours, directly into your ears. It is important to know the decibel levels around you and wear hearing protection whenever the sound exceeds 85dB. Take listening breaks if it’s noisy and keep the level of sound on your personal listening devices below 60% of its potential volume. If you do feel like you have some degree of hearing loss it is always a good idea to have it diagnosed. Schedule a hearing exam in honor of Protect Your Hearing Month and find out what we can do for you and your hearing needs.