Safe and Sound

Let’s Make Noise Safer

By Vicky Chan

April 25 is International Noise Awareness Day, an annual, vital reminder to take a stand against noise exposure and to spread awareness about the underestimated threat of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Seemingly harmless rhythms, roars, and blasts heard daily from music, trains, and machinery are, in fact, among the top offenders of NIHL.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) progressively occurs after chronic exposure to loud sounds. The frequency and intensity of the sound level, measured in decibels (dB), increases the risk of NIHL. Gradual hearing loss can result from prolonged contact with noise levels of 85 dB or greater, such as heavy city traffic. Noises of 110 dB or more, like construction (110 dB), an ambulance (120dB), or the pop of firecrackers (140-165 dB) can damage one’s hearing in a minute’s time.


NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable, yet billions of individuals endanger themselves daily. Over 1.1 billion young adults ages 12 to 35—an age group that frequently uses headphones to listen to music—are at risk. Already, an estimated 12.5% of young people ages of 6 to 19 have hearing loss as a result of using earbuds or headphones at a high volume. A device playing at maximum volume (105 dB) is dangerous, so exposure to sounds at 100 dB for more than 15 minutes is highly discouraged.

Most major cities around the world have transit systems that put commuters in contact with sounds at 110 dB. BBC News found that London’s transit systems can get as loud as 110 dB, which is louder than a nearby helicopter taking off. The sound levels of some stations exceed the threshold for which occupational hearing protection is legally required. New York City has one of the largest and oldest subway systems in the world where 91% of commuters exceed the recommended levels of noise exposure annually. In a study on Toronto’s subway system, 20% of intermittent bursts of impulse noises were greater than 114 dB.

People who work in certain fields are more vulnerable to NIHL than others. Professional musicians, for instance, are almost four times as likely to develop NIHL than the general public. Military personnel, who are in extremely close proximity to gunfire and blasts, are more likely to return home from combat with hearing loss and/or tinnitus than any other type of injury. And airport ground staff are surrounded by high-frequency aircraft noises at 140 dB. In all of these professions, the hazard of NIHL can be significantly mitigated with hearing protection.

NIHL is permanent. Increased exposure to excess noise destroys the sensory cells in the inner ears (hair cells), which decreases hearing capacity and leads to hearing loss. Once damaged, the sensory cells cannot be restored. To find a solution, Hearing Health Foundation’s (HHF) Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) conducts groundbreaking research on inner ear hair cell regeneration in hopes of discovering a life-changing cure.

Nearly three-quarters of those who are exposed to loud noises rarely or never use hearing protection. It is our dream that someday, NIHL will be reversible as a result of the HRP. Until then, to make noise safer, HHF advises protection by remembering to Block, Walk, and Turn. Block out noises by wearing earplugs or protective earmuffs. Walk away or limit exposure to high-levels of noises. Turn down the volume of electronic devices.

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A Special Message from Claire Schultz, CEO of HHF

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.
Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

-Helen Keller

We are so very grateful for your support of our research to cure hearing loss and tinnitus, and for your interest in prevention and hearing health. The following are some of our achievements during 2015:

Emerging Research Grants (ERG) - HHF awarded 10 grants in Tinnitus, Ménière's, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and Hyperacusis. The longstanding commitment to funding the highest quality research projects remains an important priority. Learn more about how to fund a named grant, here.

Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) Published Research - HRP consortium members had their HHF-funded research published in renowned scientific publications, a big accomplishment that shows progress toward our goal and reinforces the value provided by our collaborative research approach. Check out our blog in 2016 for more updates on their path to find a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. 

Research Briefings and Events - Our new series of live-video research updates offers an exclusive look at progress being made by our HRP Consortium members. These successful webinars, as well as HRP research events in local cities around the U.S., will continue in 2016. Watch our most recent briefing, here.

Safe and Sound - HHF and Puro Sound Labs, a consumer headphone company have partnered to spread the word about responsible listening, hearing loss prevention, and the importance of hearing health. Puro Sound's headphones have a built-in sound control device to help monitor music decibel levels and allow listeners to enjoy music while simultaneously protecting their hearing. Buy your pair today!


HHF Took Action - In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report on the prevalence of disability in the U.S. that excluded hearing loss. HHF took action and asked others to join our efforts; 8,500 people signed our petition which we sent to White House representatives. The result was positive; the CDC issued a statement that changes are underway.

Your contribution today ensures we continue advancing the research in 2016. Together, we will make the dream of cure a reality.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. May the New Year bring you good health and happiness.  


Sincerely yours,

Claire Schultz, CEO

Any donation you send before December 31st will be instantly

doubled thanks to a generous matching gift from one
of our supporters - you will make twice the IMPACT!

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HHF Celebrates National Protect Your Hearing Month

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.  

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