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How Loud Is Too Loud?

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If you think hearing loss only occurs as you grow older, think again. An estimated 1 in 5 adolescents between ages 12 and 19 has slight or mild hearing loss. They’re not alone; approximately 15% of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1960, already have hearing loss.

[Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/documents/aaa_childhood-hearing-guidelines_2011.pdf; http://www.betterhearing.net/blog_baby_boomers.php 

Deafening Trends in Noise Induced Hearing Loss

These trends are a disturbing departure from what happened in past generations. Historically, significant hearing loss didn’t happen until people were in their 70s or 80s. The reason for the change is simple: our environment is becoming much louder. Over the course of the 20th century, our society changed from quiet and agrarian to mechanized and with varying levels of volume. Just a small sample of the culprits includes heavy construction equipment, lawn mowers, bulldozers, vacuum cleaners, power tools, rock concerts, children’s toys and, of course, MP3 players.

The bottom line is that hearing loss can happen to anyone who’s exposed to loud noises if the negative conditions are right. For the adolescent and baby boomer segments of the population, the most common cause of hearing loss is prolonged, chronic exposure to loud noises. This is called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), and it’s permanent. If you listen to a loud noise for too long, it begins to damage the tiny nerve cells in your inner ear that are responsible for hearing. With each cell that dies, your hearing decreases a fraction. Until researchers figure out a way to repair these damaged or dead cells, there is no hope of reversing NIHL.

Decibel Levels of Common Sounds


The best thing you can do for your ears is to make an effort to prevent any further damage. To do so, it helps to understand that the intensity of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Here’s a breakdown of a few common decibel levels for everyday noises:


·      0 dB: tiny rustle of a leaf

·      30 dB: quiet library 

·      90 dB: lawnmower  

·      115 dB: rock concert 

·      140 dB: jet plane taking off


Ongoing exposure to sounds above 85 dB can cause permanent hearing loss over time. Even a one-time event such as a gunshot or explosion at close proximity can do lasting damage. The rule of thumb for unprotected ears is that the allowed exposure time decreases by one-half for each 5 dB increase in the sound. For instance, you can listen to a 90 dB sound for eight hours per day, a 95 dB sound for four hours per day and a 100 dB sound for two hours per day.


[Sources: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/staticresources/health/education/teachers/CommonSounds.pdf; http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Noise/ ]

Practice Caution

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Sometimes people are reluctant to take any visible measures to block out harmful, loud noises because they don’t want to be conspicuous. It is important to remember that, once lost, you can never recover your hearing. Don’t spend your time in silence,

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