Essential facts about noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss can happen to people at any age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, as many as 40 million adults and approximately 17 percent of all teens may have hearing loss in one or both ears due to exposure to loud noise. The following information, brought to you by the Miracle-Ear Foundation, is intended to help you better understand noise-induced hearing loss and how you can prevent it from happening to you or someone you love.

What is noise-induced hearing loss?

The inner ear contains microscopic hair cells that respond to mechanical sound vibrations received by the ear and then send electrical signals to the auditory nerve. Excessive noise can damage these hair cells, and if enough hair cells are damaged, hearing loss results. Unfortunately, hearing loss caused by noise is usually permanent.

Which types of noise cause noise-induced hearing loss?

People experience noise-induced hearing loss through one-time exposure to a very loud sound, such as a gunshot (140 to 190 decibels), or repeated exposure to moderately loud sounds (85 decibels or higher), such as a lawn mower, power tools, motorcycle or machinery at work.

Sound sourceDecibelsDamage to hearing
Whisper30 dBNone
City traffic88 dBAfter 4 hours of exposure
Riding a motorcycle97 dBAfter 30 minutes of exposure
MP3 player100 dBAfter 15 minutes of exposure
Stadium football game115 dBAfter 30 seconds of exposure
Gunshot140 dBImmediate

Source: Better Hearing Institute

Who’s affected by noise-induced hearing loss?

Our society has become increasingly noisy. Consequently, noise-induced hearing loss affects people of all ages, at work, at home and at play. High-risk situations include hunting and target shooting, attending rock concerts, mowing the lawn, riding ATVs and working in close proximity to industrial or farm equipment. Dangerous Decibels estimates that 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful sounds at work.

What are the signs and symptoms?

An extremely loud sound, such as a gunshot or fireworks, can result in an immediate, and sometimes permanent, loss of hearing. More often, however, noise-induced hearing loss happens in small increments over time — so gradually, you may not even be aware of it. Signs and symptoms of hearing loss include frequently asking people to repeat themselves; missing certain words or parts of words; turning up the TV or radio too loud for others; and difficulty hearing the voices of women or young children. Exposure to loud noises may also cause tinnitus, commonly called “ringing in the ears.”

How can it be prevented?

The good news is, noise-induced hearing loss is very preventable. Following are some recommended noise-avoidance tactics:

  • Turn down the volume on stereos and other electronics
  • Limit your time with, or walk away from, unsafe sound levels
  • If this isn’t possible, wear earplugs or other hearing protection devices
  • Safeguard the hearing of children who are too young to know better

Prevent Hearing Loss

Lastly, if you suspect damage to your hearing, get your hearing tested by a hearing healthcare professional.