Disabling hearing loss affects far more people than many people may expect. This is because it is an invisible disability. You cannot say ‘Oh that person suffers from hearing loss’ just by looking at someone. And it is in fact uncommon to be born with it. Fewer than three out of every 1,000 births in the U.S. result in some manner of congenital hearing loss. But an estimated 13% of the population is affected by it. It is impossible to get exact numbers, but this estimate means between 35-45 million Americans are affected. And this percentage increases with age.
This is because hearing loss most often comes on slowly and cumulatively due to habitual proximity to dangerous noise levels. Forming the appropriate healthy habits to prevent its onset is of course the most powerful tool against it. Hearing loss is manageable with proper treatment, but it is also permanent and irreversible. So the awareness of how to prevent its onset is key. And the key to this is understanding healthy noise exposure limits, in professional, recreational, and everyday settings.
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NOISH) has set formal recommendations for workplace exposure and these can and should be applied to our lives outside the workplace as well.
Assuming the average worker spends eight hours a day in their work environment, NOISH warns that continuous exposure to any sound level 85 decibels or more is dangerous. But that assumes that the hours outside of work are spent in quiet environments. Continuous exposure to 85 decibels means that any time outside of work spent in louder environments is even more dangerous.
Because decibels are measured logarithmically, the ratio of volume and time are not very simple to understand. But plus or minus 3 dB means doubling or cutting the acceptable exposure time in half. This means if an environment is 88 dB, the exposure time is cut in half, and any more than four hours represents the same danger as eight hours at 85 dB. But at 82 dB, it takes 16 hours to reach the same risk. By the time a sound reaches 100 dB, any exposure for more than 15 minutes is very dangerous.
Everywhere Else Outside of Work
There are guidelines in place to mitigate the risks of commonly risky industries such as construction, factories, or airports. There are time limits in place and regulations for proper protective gear to be worn and to set the loudest elements apart as best as they can be. But noise is everywhere. Busy restaurants and nightclubs, roaring sporting events and concerts, movie theaters, schools, and crowded streets all pose risks if we are cavalier about our exposure times.
Seeing as hearing loss is the result of accumulated damage to the delicate inner workings of your ears, it comes on so gradually it is most often difficult for people to even notice it is happening to them. This is because we adapt to our diminishing sense of hearing. And of course we do. How often are you really in a totally controlled environment in which you can accurately gauge if and how much your hearing has changed? And potentially risky habits are normalized. This is why it is so important to either limit your time involved in potentially risky habits, such as using your power tools or listening to music loud on your earbuds. Even fitness classes, which we obviously all think of as the pinnacle of taking responsibility for one’s own health, frequently involve such loud music and speaker systems that they can be dangerous.
Hearing Health is Central to your Overall Health
Hearing loss is nothing to be ashamed of. It impacts people from all walks of life, all ages, and all races. In fact, more than half of everyone aged 75 and over suffers from it. But because it is permanent and irreversible, it must be treated properly. Awareness is the key. Left untreated, hearing loss more often than not leads to social withdrawal, which leads to feelings of social isolation and depression. These negative side effects compound each other and create a sense of powerlessness and confusion. But none of that is necessary at all. It is perfectly possible and simple even to live a completely fulfilled life with hearing loss, so long as you take action.
Learn and adopt the hearing health habits specific to you and your lifestyle. And make an appointment with one of our hearing health professionals today to get an exam and learn exactly where you are now on your own journey of personal health and fulfillment.