October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

Protect yourself and your loved ones from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Signs of NIHL may not be obvious at first, but they can build over time. Anyone can develop NIHL at any age. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40 million US adults ages 20 to 69 have NIHL, and a quarter of US adults who report having good-to-excellent hearing already have hearing damage in one or both ears. Children are also at risk for NIHL. 

Some hearing hazards may surprise you. If you find yourself in a setting where you are shouting to be heard over noise in the environment, chances are that your hearing, if unprotected, is at risk. Also, listening to music or other sounds at high volume through headphones or earbuds is hazardous. In general, the louder the sound, the faster NIHL can develop.

Sound is measured in units called decibels. Sounds at or below 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) are generally safe. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

Here are some decibel ratings for common sounds:

  • Normal conversation: 60-70 dBA
  • Lawnmowers: 80 to 100 dBA
  • Sports events: 94 to 110 dBA
  • Sirens from emergency vehicles: 110 to 129 dBA
  • Fireworks: 140 to 160 dBA

Decibel meters are one way to measure potential hazards to your hearing health. The Sound Level Meter smartphone app developed by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is one example of a decibel meter app that helps workers evaluate sound risks in their environments so they can develop strategies to prevent hearing damage.

Exposure to loud sounds can have life-long consequences on your hearing, including making it difficult to communicate with others and to appreciate the sounds of nature and music.  You can help prevent NIHL by making some simple changes to your lifestyle:

Turn down the volume. Set maximum volume limits on electronics and keep the volume low on music devices and TVs. Sounds at or above 85 A-weighted decibels put you at risk for NIHL, especially if they last a long time.

Move away from the noise. To reduce sound intensity and the impact of noise on your ears, increase the distance between you and the noise. Think of this simple step when you are near fireworks, concert speakers, or in a loud restaurant.

Wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs. Sometimes you can’t easily escape the sound, whether you’re at a movie theater, a concert, a sporting event, and in a noisy work environment. Earplugs or protective earmuffs can help. If you’re a parent, carry hearing protectors for your little ones and be a good hearing health role model by wearing them yourself. If you don’t have hearing protectors, cover your ears with your hands.

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