October is National Protect Your Hearing Month. As audiologists, we see the effects that noise has on our patients' hearing on a weekly, if not daily, basis. It's not just our patients: approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-69 have hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises.
Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells that are found in our inner ear. Hair cells are small sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear (sound energy) into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back, causing permanent hearing loss.
How Loud is Too Loud?
The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by prolonged exposure to any loud noise over 85 dB, or by a one-time, intense exposure to a noise like an explosion. To give you some perspective:
- Normal conversations are around 60dB.
- Hair dryers and blenders are 90dB.
- Concerts, car racing and sporting events are 110 dB
- Ambulance, police and fire sirens are 130 dB.
- Gunshots and fireworks are 140 dB.
A good rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice to speak to someone an arm's length away, the surrounding noise is too loud. If you hear ringing, buzzing or experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work or a concert, the noise is too loud. Parents - if you can hear sounds from your child's headphones or earbuds while standing next to them, the volume is too loud.
The risk for noise-induced hearing loss is especially high among factory workers, transportation workers, military personnel, construction workers, musicians and entertainers, those who work frequently with heavy machinery, and first responders.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers implement a Hearing Conservation Program if workers are exposed to an average noise level of 85 dB or higher over an 8-hour work period. According to OSHA, Hearing Conservation Programs require employers to measure noise levels, provide free annual hearing exams, free hearing protection, provide training, and conduct evaluations of the adequacy of the hearing protectors in use unless changes to tools, equipment and schedules are made less noisy and/or worker exposure to noise is less than the 85 dBA.
Hearing Protection Solutions
If you are attending a sporting event, concert, parade, fireworks show, or any other type of event, you should always pack a set of earplugs that can be purchased at your local pharmacy. This is especially true for children.
For people who are exposed to loud noises on a daily basis, we offer custom-molded earplugs, made from medical-grade silicone. Our earplugs offer a level of comfort and protection that you won't find in standard, generic earplugs. These earplugs are vented to allow sound to pass both ways, so you don't get that "plugged up" feeling.
If you're often having to speak over the noise in your work or leisure environments, call us for a hearing protection consultation.