Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common preventable cause of hearing loss. It can occur when you are exposed to sounds that are too loud for too long and can damage your hearing.
Hearing loss from noise exposure is usually gradual, and many people don’t know they have it until it’s too late. Many people think they have just “gotten old” or are losing their hearing when they turn up the TV volume or find it difficult to hear in noisy environments (e.g., restaurants).
Noise-induced hearing loss differs from age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) or genetic hearing loss (hereditary). Age-related hearing loss affects everyone as we age. Still, you can protect yourself against noise-induced hearing loss by avoiding loud sounds, using ear protection, and getting your ears checked regularly by an audiologist specializing in diagnosing and treating ear problems caused by exposure to excessive noise.
Common causes of dangerous noise
Take a walk down a busy street, and noises are everywhere. They are more damaging to your hearing than you might expect. Honking cars and sirens can create up to 85 decibels of sound. An approaching subway train sets off 100 decibels in the air. The leaf blower register at just over 85 decibels. Think of it in the suburbs as being safer?
Even a place as healthy as the gym presents several potentially overlooked loud sound sources. And let’s not forget about public events – Exuberant sports fans, a packed indoor stadium, and a pulsating sound system at your favorite sports team event is a lot of fun. But be wary of the noise you’re exposed to.
And if we don’t forget about earbuds: These tiny electronic devices will deliver pulsating waves directly into your ear at decibel levels above 100. Cranking up music volume on an iPhone is safe for 10 minutes before you risk severe, even permanent, hearing damage.
WHO announces new guidelines for safe listening in public venues?
Before World Hearing Day in 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a new international standard for safe listening at venues and events. The rule applies to places and events where music is played loudly.
“Millions of teenagers and young people are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to damaging sound levels at places like nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events,” said Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases.
The WHO has six recommendations that should be used to ensure that venues and events limit the risk of hearing loss for their customers while keeping high-quality sound and an enjoyable listening experience.
These are the six ideas:
- An average noise level of no more than 100 decibels
- Staff will use calibrated equipment to monitor and record sound levels in real-time.
- Improve the sound quality and safety of the venue’s acoustics and sound systems.
- Give people personal hearing protection and instructions on how to use it
- Allow access to quiet places where people can rest their ears and reduce the risk of hearing damage; and
- Give the staff training and information.
The new standard was made as part of the WHO’s “Make Listening Safe” initiative, which aims to improve listening habits, especially among young people. It was made using the most recent research and consultations with experts from WHO, government, industry, consumers, and civil society, among others.
How to protect yourself from noise
There’s no legal requirement for venues to follow these guidelines. Additionally, there’s no cure for noise-induced hearing loss. All you can do is protect your ears from the noise that causes it. Here are some tips for preventing NIHL:
- Protection: Wear earplugs or earmuffs when you’re around loud noises, like concerts or sporting events. They’ll help prevent hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds.
- Restraint: Turn the volume on your music player (or use headphones), so it’s not too loud.
- Take care at work: Wear ear protection such as earplugs or earmuffs if you work in a noisy environment. If your employer does not provide them, ask for them.
- Get checked: Test your hearing regularly to ensure your hearing isn’t damaged already.