Inventions in the Modern Age, from automobiles and concert speakers to industrial machinery, have led to an increased incidence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Factor in exposure to sounds from living in large metropolitan areas with environmental noises, and the ears are being bombarded by noise.
So how many of us are at risk for NIHL? The stats, per M. Jennifer Derebery, MD of the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles: 104 million Americans. Derebery estimates roughly 20-25 million Americans who work eight-hour shifts are subject to LEQ noise levels (those that vary over time) above 85 decibels (dB), putting them at risk for NIHL.
Noise pollution can cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, a constant ringing noise in the ears, and hyperacusis, an intolerance of loud noises. And noise pollution doesn’t solely affect adults, it impacts children, as well.
How to Know if Noise is Too Loud
Derebery’s guidelines for this are pretty straightforward. “After loud noise, if ears ring, even transiently, it’s too loud. If hearing is muffled after exposure, even transiently, it’s too loud.”
Why paying attention to this is important? Derebery says, “A single, bad exposure, or multiple short exposures, leave ears muffled and hearing decreased or ringing. This may result in permanent hearing loss.”
How to Protect Your Child
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) say long-term exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss and other hearing problems. As a point of reference, a refrigerator humming is about 45 dBs and normal conversation is about 60 dBs. It’s common for decibel levels in nightclubs to be above 90 dBs.
To protect your child, Derebery recommends:
- Get audio monitor apps on your cell phone and measure ambient sounds. It if reaches 85 dB, they could be at risk. Either leave, wear earplugs or have the volume turned down.
- Wear earplugs. Foam versions are okay, but it’s also possible to be fitted for custom plugs that don’t distort sound.
- Zagat restaurant guides are providing ratings based on noise exposure, so schedule your dining out around dB.
- Take a break from noise. Even a few minutes every hour can give [ear] hair cells a rest.
- Take off earbuds, get out of the nightclub, spin class, etc. and…
- Complain about noise levels.
- The more people draw attention to excessive noise, the more keeping dBs at a reasonable level will be enforced.
Not to be left out — the impact of sound on a child’s education. According to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), “Even quieter sounds can hinder children’s focus when the noise isn’t related to the task at hand.” What they deduced: Children need quieter environments for learning.