Health Break | Published May 2, 2005 | Written by Beverly Huff

Pump Up The Volume? Try Toning It Down

Approximately 30 million Americans are exposed to harmful levels of noise on a regular basis. This exposure can most certainly lead to hearing loss.

Many types of hearing loss are associated with the aging process. It is not commonly known that noise-induced hearing loss is on the rise among children and young adults, and can be the cause of significant premature hearing loss.

Approximately 5.2 million children have noise-induced hearing loss. That’s about 12 percent of all children ages 6 to 19.

Noise-induced hearing loss usually happens slowly. It is something you cannot see, and there is no pain. So, the typical teenager who takes his or her good health for granted does not realize how much damage is actually being done.

Hearing loss might seem as remote as Alzheimer’s disease—something to be faced years and years from now. Once the damage is done, however, there is no going back. The hearing loss is permanent and hearing aids are the only solution.

What happens inside the ear to cause this type of hearing loss? Repeated exposure to loud sounds causes wear and tear on the delicate structures of the inner ear. This wear and tear is much like constant walking on your lawn. If the grass is subjected to constant traffic, it soon looses its ability to spring back and becomes permanently damaged. The louder and more frequent the exposure to loud noise, the more damage is done to the delicate hair cell structures in the inner ear.

So, how loud is too loud? Noise can be described in terms of intensity—perceived as loudness and measured in decibels (dB). Even sounds perceived as comfortably loud can be harmful.

Here are a few examples of common sources of noise:

Dangerous levels of noise:

  • Gunshot—140 to 170 dB

  • Jet takeoff—140 dB

  • Rock concert, chain saw, stereo headphones, diesel locomotive, motorcycle, lawnmower—110 to 120 dB

Normal levels of noise:

  • Conversational speech—60 dB

  • Quiet room—50 dB

  • Whisper—30 to 40 dB

Permanent hearing loss from loud concerts is becoming increasingly common. Have you ever left a concert unable to hear as well, or with a ringing in your ears? Guess what, you have already done damage to your hearing! Plenty of rockers, including The Who’s Peter Townsend and most of the heavy metal group Metallica, will tell you that they don’t hear well anymore. Excessive noise has permanently damaged their hearing.

The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. You can make “hearing health” a part of your lifestyle. Stay away from loud and prolonged noise. Use ear protection when you are in high levels of noise. And most importantly, TURN DOWN THE VOLUME!

We can educate children about how to protect their ears. If you suspect that you or your child has a hearing loss, have your or your child’s hearing checked. An audiologist can check your hearing, talk to you about your hearing, advise you on ways to prevent hearing loss, and let you know if you are a candidate for a hearing aid.

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. The Mount Nittany Medical Center Audiology Department is offering free hearing screenings to the public throughout May. To schedule an appointment, call (814) 234-6106.

For more information on hearing loss, check the following Web sites:

Beverly Huff is a certified licensed audiologist at Mount Nittany Medical Center.