Health First 

Frequent Loud Noise Can Lead to Hearing Loss

Most people think of being “hard of hearing” as a problem of the elderly, but 15 percent of people ages 20 to 69 have some degree of hearing loss. Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.

There are two ways that loud noise can lead to “acoustic trauma” and hearing loss:
1. Sudden loud noise, such as the firing of a gun at close range, a firecracker going off or a person playing in a rock band.
2. Frequent, lower decibel noise, from wearing headphones with music playing loudly.

Loud noise can damage the fine hair cells in the inner ear (in the cochlea) and the auditory nerve that relays transformed sound into electrical impulses. The ear is a complex, delicate sensory organ. Once hair cells are lost, they do not grow back. Once enough of them have been damaged, the person  experiences hearing loss. Since hearing loss does not cause any pain, a person may be unaware that damage is occurring.

Early signs of hearing damage include:
1. Loss of ability to hear high-pitched sounds. Loss of low-pitched sounds comes later.
2. Temporary or permanent ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
3. Fullness in the ear.
4. Muffled voices or sounds.

There is concern that loud music at rock concerts and daily wearing of headphones or iPod-buds may cause long-term hearing loss.
Here are some basic guidelines for protecting your child’s or teenager’s hearing:
1. Have earplugs available for use when there is loud noise (while using a leaf blower or power tools or during a rock concert). Earplugs can reduce sound up to 25 decibels. Noise is too loud if a person
cannot hear someone talking to them less than two feet away or if he or she has to yell to be heard.
2. When listening to MP3 players, wear earphones that do not fit tightly in the ear canal. iPod ear buds can emit sound as loud as 130 decibels, well above the damage level. When someone is listening to music and someone next to him or her can hear the music, the music is too loud. Wear earphones that are not ear tight and allow some air to reach the eardrum. Earphones that fit on the outer ear are better.
3. A good rule of thumb is to turn down the music so that conversation can be heard. While music has many benefits, listening to loud music daily may lead to hearing loss. Time will tell if the “iPod generation” will become the “hearing aid generation” at a younger age.

Generally, sound levels greater than 85-90 decibels (db) can lead to noise-induced hearing loss over time. Here is a reference guide:

  • 140 dB: Jet taking off, gun, balloon pop, firecracker
  • 120 dB: Rock concert, car race, ambulance, jack hammer
  • 119 dB: Chain saw, baby crying, leaf blower, car horn
  • 90 dB: Hair dryer, subway, motorcycle, lawnmower
  • 70 dB: Vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, inside car, garbage disposal
  • 60 dB: Normal talking, electric toothbrush, sewing machine, large office
  • 50 dB: Rain, air conditioner, quiet office, refrigerator
  • 30 dB: Soft whisper

For more information, go to:
www.familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/safety/work.html
www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov
www.nidcd.nih.gov/directory

Alice Little Caldwell, MD 
Alice Little Caldwell, MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

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