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Protect your hearing – Be aware of noise

April 25th is International Noise Awareness Day.

Noise exposure is one of the main causes of hearing loss, yet most people don’t realise when they are damaging their ears. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can develop after one occurrence of extreme noise exposure or after listening to very loud sounds over time.

Everyone has tiny hair cells in their inner ear (cochlea) that vibrate and send an electric signal to the auditory nerve – allowing you to hear. Different groups of hair cells interpret different sound frequencies. Over time, if enough of these hair cells are damaged or broken, hearing loss results.

Sounds that damage your ear

A normal, healthy ear, is capable of hearing frequencies ranging from 20 to 20,000 Hz, however, some sounds can cause long-term or permanent hearing loss, either instantly or after prolonged listening.

Sound is measured in decibels (represented as dB). Normal conversation occurs at around 60 dB, which is not loud enough to cause damage. A typical rock concert averages about 120 dB, which means hearing damage can occur after the first 15 minutes. Simply put, the lower the volume, the longer you can listen without damage; the higher the volume, the less time it takes for hearing damage to occur.

Below are ranges of sounds you probably didn’t know could affect your hearing:

110 – 180 dB (it only takes one to 30 minutes of exposure to cause damage depending on the level)

  • Rock concert (located near speakers)
  • Rowdy stadium crowd
  • Jet plane take-off
  • Thunder
  • Emergency vehicle siren
  • Balloon popping (close to ear)
  • Firecracker
  • Safety airbag

85 – 100 dB (It takes 6 to 8 hours of exposure to cause damage)

  • Heavy traffic
  • Music playing at maximum volume*
  • Noisy bar
  • Window air conditioner (close to you)
  • Hair dryer
  • Motorcycle
  • Squeeze toy (close to ear)
  • Underground train (passing)

How to prevent hearing damage

The simplest way to avoid developing hearing loss is to pay attention to sound volume wherever you go. Listening to levels below 85 dB can help you preserve your hearing. If a sound is too loud, don’t stay around long enough for it to cause damage.

When in doubt, you can always use hearing protection.** To keep your hearing healthy and preserve your joy of sound, it’s wise to plan an appointment with a hearing care professional near you.

* More than 1 billion people aged 12-35 listen to personal electronic devices at volumes deemed “unsafe,” putting themselves in danger of permanent hearing loss, according to a World Health Organization report from 2015 (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ear-care/en/).

** A study by the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands found that 42% of people who do not use earplugs experience temporary hearing loss immediately following recreational noise exposure such as amplified concerts. Among those who do use earplugs, the figure is only 8%. In addition, only 12% of the study participants who used earplugs experienced tinnitus following the sound exposure compared to 40% of those who did not use earplugs. (Study published online in April 2016 in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.)