How to Protect Your Hearing

Everything you need to know about noise-induced hearing loss

(RxWiki News) How loud is too loud? It's important to know when noise can threaten your hearing. Read on to learn more about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

NIHL can affect almost anyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 40 million adults in the United States have NIHL. And many people who think they have good hearing already have some hearing damage.

What Is NIHL?

NIHL is a simple concept — loud noises can cause damage to your hearing over time. But how does your hearing actually get damaged? According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), loud sounds can produce sound waves that damage sensitive structures in your inner ear.

Damage to your hearing can happen slowly over time or immediately. How NIHL occurs depends on the nature of the sound that is causing the damage.

What Kinds of Sounds Can Cause NIHL?

Everyday sounds like conversations and background noise are unlikely to damage your hearing. But sounds that exceed a certain level can quickly cause damage.

The "loudness" of a sound is measured in a unit called a decibel. Sounds of 70 decibels or lower are not likely to cause any hearing damage, according to the NIDCD. However, repeated or continuous exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can cause damage. Generally, the louder a sound is, the shorter amount of time it will take to cause NIHL.

Here are some common sounds and their average decibel levels:

  • Conversation: 60 to 70 decibels
  • Movie at the theater: 74 to 104 decibels
  • Motorcycles: 80 to 110 decibels
  • Sporting events, concerts and music through headphones at maximum volume: 94 to 110 decibels
  • Sirens: 110 to 129 decibels
  • Fireworks shows: 140 to 160 decibels

How Can I Prevent Hearing Loss?

The good news is that NIHL can be prevented. Here are a few simple steps you can take to protect your hearing:

  • Learn the types of sounds that can damage your hearing and avoid them.
  • If you are going to be involved in an event that features loud noises, wear earplugs.
  • If you are unable to use earplugs or reduce the volume of the noise, move away from it as quickly as possible.

Always protect children's ears from loud sounds. Kids may not have a good sense of when a noise is too loud to be safe.

If you think you might have hearing loss, talk to your health care provider about having your hearing tested.