By Emily Shepard
October marks National Protect Your Hearing Month, part of the American Academy of Audiology’s (AAA) campaign to raise public awareness about hearing protection. Through extensive research and programming such as the Safe and Sound Program, Hearing Health Foundation has contributed greatly to this awareness. To celebrate National Protect Your Hearing Month, HHF has compiled a list of 5 Must Know Facts about Hearing Loss Prevention.
Fact #1: Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) can be contracted in a variety of environments. Around 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69- around 15% of the population- have NIHL due to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities. 60% of military service members have NIHL or tinnitus, or both. Given this huge percentage, it’s unsurprising that active and veteran service members rank hearing loss and tinnitus as their top health concern.
Fact #2: NIHL is the most preventable type of hearing loss. The measures needed to prevent NIHL are easy and simple. Just remember the following three words: Walk, Block, and Turn. When exposed to loud sounds, walk away. Block noise by wearing earplugs or other hearing protective devices when involved in a loud activity. Turn down the sound on stereos and mp3 devices. These are some of many ways you can help protect your hearing. Ultimately, the idea is to keep an eye (or an ear) on noises that seem hazardous or alarming. “For more information about how to protect your hearing, please visit our partner’s page, It’s a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing®.
Fact #3: Half of classical orchestral musicians experience hearing loss. But that doesn’t mean you should! As stated in our blog post, “The Danger From Noise When It Is Actually Music”, musicians practice or perform up to eight hours a day. Sound levels onstage can reach up to 110 decibels (dB), the equivalent of a jackhammer! Prolonged exposure to 85 dB (the sound of heavy traffic), causes hair cells of the inner ear to be permanently damaged and can lead to hearing loss. With an 85 dB minimum for this risk, musicians exposed to jackhammer-levels are in dangerous territory. Attending an orchestra show or any other musically-vibrant production may not put you at the same risk of musicians, but it is still important to take cautionary measures. Find a seat that isn’t too close to the front of the stage and bring earplugs in case the music gets too loud. If the sound becomes especially loud, it might be worthwhile to leave early. Since soundtracks and recordings of shows are often available for purchase, there’s no need to stay out of fear of missing out. Remember, safety should always come first.
Fact #4: What commonly used portable device is louder than a hair dryer, dishwasher, heavy city traffic, and a subway platform? The correct answer is an MP3 player at maximum volume (105 dB). Listening to your favorite artists or podcasts on blast may seem like a thrill, but there’s nothing fun about subjecting your ears to hazardous noise levels. 1 in 5 teenagers, an age group that frequently uses MP3 players, suffer from hearing loss. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation reports that 12.5% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from loss of hearing as a result of using ear phones or earbuds turned to a high volume. So to play it safe, HHF suggests no more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at or above 100 decibels.
Fact #5: Steps to prevent hearing loss should begin the moment someone is born. In 1993, only 5% of newborns were tested at birth for hearing loss. Thanks to HHF’s instrumental role in establishing Universal Newborn Hearing Screening legislation, this percentage increased dramatically. By 2007, 94% of newborns were tested. Early detection of hearing impairments in infants can help to diminish or even eliminate negative impacts that would otherwise harm their future development. Therefore it is important to screen infants for hearing impairments, preferably before they are discharged from the hospital. You can learn about the different types of tests hospitals use to screen infants here.