By Optum New Mexico
Your ears are small but mighty organs containing some of the body’s tiniest, most unique bones — all of which work together to help you hear and keep your balance. In a world filled with big sounds and loud situations, you may be unknowingly putting your hearing at risk.
In fact, nearly one in four U.S. adults who thought they had good to excellent hearing were shown to already have signs of hearing damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Aging tops the list of causes for hearing loss, but excessive noise exposure — either one time or over many years — is now generally considered the second most common factor, the CDC says. That means, in some cases, hearing loss may be preventable if you dial down the decibels (dB).
Noise-induced hearing loss: Your ability to hear relies, in part, on microscopic hair-like projections on tens of thousands of tiny sensors called hair cells in your cochlea, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. These hair cells convert vibrations into electrical impulses, which eventually travel to your brain. However, loud noises can destroy hair cells and damage hearing.
With this type of hearing loss, once it’s gone, you can’t get the hearing back — and treatment, such as hearing aids, becomes the best option.
How loud is too loud? While sound around 70 dB, such as the level of normal conversation, is unlikely to damage hearing, there are other everyday situations where noise can exceed safe dBs:
- Yard work: The hum of a common mower can create noise levels as high as 85dB, which may damage hearing after two hours of exposure, the CDC reports. Leaf blowers, weed whackers and power tools can be even louder. Some people may even wear headphones for music while cutting the lawn or doing other loud home improvement projects, a practice hearing health professionals recommend avoiding. Instead, these types of activities warrant the use of ear plugs to help lower the volume and protect against excessive noise exposure.
- Motorcycling: The open road can be a dangerously noisy place. Just 50 minutes of exposure to a rumbling motorcycle engine, which clocks in at 95 dB, may contribute to hearing loss, the CDC says.
- Sporting events: The noise at a 2014 Kansas City Chiefs football game peaked at over 142 dB, setting a Guinness World Record for crowd roar at a sports stadium. A study of noise levels at 10 intercollegiate basketball games showed that noise at more than half of the games exceeded acceptable intensity levels when compared with a national workplace noise exposure standard, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
- Night clubs and concerts: The risk to hearing damage may be even greater at a live music event. Nightclubs and rock concerts can produce sound readings of 105-110 dB, according to the CDC. Without ear protection, permanent hearing loss is possible in fewer than five minutes, it said. Personal audio devices that pipe music to the ears through earbuds or headphones can also expose the listener to unsafe levels of sound that increase the risk of hearing loss over time.
- Fireworks: Loud sounds don’t have to be prolonged to be dangerous. A fireworks explosion can be so loud, according to the Cleveland Clinic, that one quick blast may cause lasting hearing loss or a ringing in the ear called tinnitus. In fact, the CDC found that almost all fireworks create noise that is over 140-150 dB. To protect your hearing in areas where quick blasts are possible, experts recommend wearing protection both in and over the ears.
Limiting the duration and intensity of exposure to noise can be your best defense for protecting your hearing. These suggestions may help:
- Consider using a sound meter app to monitor what may be unsafe noise in public, such as in restaurants or fitness classes.
- Avoid noisy places or take frequent breaks, including at music shows.
- Wear foam ear plugs or reusable hearing protection if you can’t avoid extended exposure to loud sounds and places.
- Follow the 60-60 listening rule: Set audio devices at no more than 60 percent of maximum volume and listen for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Consider noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds.