By Maggie Niu
April 27 is International Noise Awareness Day (INAD), a day dedicated to encouraging people to “do something about bothersome noise where they work, live, and play.”
Every day in our environment we experience sound, whether it’s pleasant, like music, or bothersome, like sirens. Unpleasant or unwanted noisy environments can be dreadful; not only can noise increase our stress level and inhibit us from carrying out daily tasks, but also in the long run overexposure to noise can damage our hearing. This is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). All too often, we become immune to the constant hum of traffic (about 85 decibels, or dB) and noisy subway stations (95 dB). The Safe and Sound safe listening levels chart, on the left, details the effects of various decibel levels on our ears.
There are two causes of NIHL. One is impulse noise, a one-time exposure to a loud sound such as an explosion. This can cause temporary and/or permanent hearing loss. The other cause of NIHL is continuous exposure to loud noise. This type of hearing loss happens gradually over time.
NIHL affects our inner-ear hair cells (the cells that help us hear) as well as the auditory or hearing nerve. Not only can this type of hearing loss be permanent, it can also lead to tinnitus. Tinnitus is hearing a constant ringing, buzzing, or roaring without an external sound source. It can be in one or both ears and often occurs with hearing loss.
Now the question is: How do we protect ourselves from NIHL? It can be as easy as remembering to Walk, Block, and Turn! Walk away from loud sounds. Block noise by wearing earplugs or other hearing protective devices. Turn the volume down on stereos and personal music devices. If you work in a noisy environment, take proper measures to protect your ears by wearing ear plugs or ear muffs. Being able to hear is important for daily interactions and often taken for granted until it's too late.
To learn more about Hearing Health Foundation's Safe and Sound program, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.