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With about 20% of Americans suffering some form of hearing loss, it’s clear that hearing loss is an epidemic today. Our lives have gotten louder. Whether we’re on the job, enjoying a hobby, or using a personal listening device to hear music or podcasts, we’re acculturated to noise inundation.
We all know to protect our hearing when we encounter “loud sound,” but many of us might not be aware of how quiet sound can be while still causing hearing loss. We know to protect our ears on a shooting range or at a rock concert, and our employers are responsible for providing ear protection when our jobs force us to encounter unsafe noise levels, but what about all the other times we might be exposing ourselves to dangerous sounds without even realizing it?
One important thing to note is that our employers are required to prevent us from experiencing greater than an average of 85 dBA of noise exposure over an 8-hour period. 85 dBA is the lowest level of sound known to cause hearing loss, and it takes about 8 hours of exposure at 85 dBA for hearing loss to occur. So, reasonably, our employers are required to provide hearing protection or remove noise sources that expose us to louder sound, or for longer than 8 hours.
There is still a problem, however, with allowing employees to experience a full 85 dBA of sound for the duration of an 8-hour shift. If we leave work and encounter any more sound above 85 dBA, hearing loss will occur. Simply driving to and from work with the windows down, without hearing protection, will cause hearing loss.
This means that even if you’re taking good care to wear hearing protection at a noisy place of employment, if your hearing protection is not bringing your average exposure significantly below 85 dBA you are still very likely to suffer hearing loss, though your employer will not technically be at fault. For this reason, it is important to be vigilant about protecting your ears outside the workplace.
A Sliding Scale of Hearing Loss
While 85 dBA of average noise will only cause hearing loss after 8 hours of exposure, this is not the case for louder sound. A catastrophic sonic event can cause immediate and permanent deafness, but there is a wide grey area where hearing loss occurs faster than 8 hours at noise levels that might not even be uncomfortable.
A good metric to remember is that for every additional 3 dBA of noise, the amount it takes for hearing loss to occur is cut in half. The following table can help illustrate the danger of small increases in decibel level:
|Decibel Level (in dBA)||“Safe” Amount of Exposure|
While 85 dBA is about the level of noisy traffic, or a lawnmower, 100 dBA is about the level of a motorcycle. A nearby siren will hit 115 dBA.
If you’re unsure about the noise levels you’re encountering on a regular basis, you can download an “SPL meter” or “decibel meter” for your smartphone and measure any environments you’re unsure about. You might be surprised just how loud the ambient sound can be in some of the places you spend time!
A Noise Level to Give You “Paws”
Do you have a dog? Dog barking tends to range between 80–90 dBA. While your dog probably doesn’t bark all day long, if you’re close enough often enough, and you have enough other sources of noise in your life, it could be a risk. While we would never suggest getting rid of Fido, training courses that might help reduce anxiety or CBD-infused treats could make for a quieter, more docile pooch. Those who work or volunteer at shelters, or otherwise encounter a lot of close-quarters dog barking, should be especially vigilant and wear ear protection.
Snoring can also reach up to 90 dBA! If you snore or sleep next to someone who does, your hearing could be in jeopardy. A 2003 study in the Journal of Otolaryngology found that the partners of those who snore heavily actually do have more hearing loss than those with quiet sleepers in their lives. If snoring is an issue, it’s worth seeking a doctor’s opinion about what can be done. Otherwise, find a comfortable set of earplugs with at least 15 dBA of protection!
Earplugs and Hearing Aids
If you know that you regularly encounter unsafe noise levels, a custom-molded set of earplugs is the best and most comfortable way to ensure you’re getting the protection you need. They can even be fitted with different attenuators to provide different levels of protection depending on the activity. Musicians, firearms enthusiasts and others who regularly encounter high levels of noise will appreciate hearing protection that can be worn comfortably all day long.
Lastly, if you are having trouble hearing, hearing aids are the best way to prevent a cascade of negative health outcomes that tends to begin once untreated hearing loss becomes an issue. Regular hearing tests are important for everyone, and attention to our hearing health—whether we require protection, augmentation, or both—ensures we can live our lives with optimal health and well-being for a long time to come.
If you believe you can benefit from the life changing experience of hearing loss treatment, contact us today! We provide comprehensive hearing health services and we’re here to support you on your journey to better hearing.