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. But, in a world of big sounds and loud situations, you may be unknowingly putting your hearing at risk.
In fact, 1 in 4 U.S. adults who thought they had good to excellent hearing were shown to already have signs of hearing damage.
Ageing 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. 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 on tens of thousands of tiny sensors called hair cells in your cochlea. These hair cells convert vibrations into electrical impulses, which eventually travel to your brain. But 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. Delaying treatment may increase the risk of falls, depression and dementia.
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which may be a good time to think about what everyday activities could affect your hearing health in the short and long run.
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 85 dB, which may damage hearing after two hours of exposure. 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.
- 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. While most games don’t get that loud, one study measured the noise level in baseball stadiums at an average of 83 dB and peak of 126 dB, readings that are high enough to cause hearing damage.
- 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 beyond 110 dB. Without ear protection, permanent hearing loss is possible in fewer than five minutes. Likewise, the maximum dB levels of personal audio devices, piped through earbuds or headphones, can be similar to rock concerts — with harm possible in just minutes.
- Firearms and fireworks: Loud sounds don’t have to be prolonged to be dangerous. A gunshot or a fireworks explosion can be so loud that one quick blast may cause lasting hearing loss or a ringing in the ear called tinnitus. Almost all firearms and many fireworks create noise that is over 140 dB. To protect your hearing at firing ranges and other 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% of maximum volume and listen for no more than 60 minutes a day
- Consider noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have hearing loss, consider using an online hearing test to determine if care and treatment may be necessary.
For more information about how to help protect your hearing and access significant savings on hearing aids as compared to similar devices sold through traditional channels, visit uhchearing.com.1
1 UnitedHealthcare claims information, 2020