While hearing loss is often associated with old age, noise induced hearing loss affects people of all ages. As our world continues to grow louder, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started a campaign to make listening safe for all across age, profession and economic background.
By researching who is most at risk for hearing loss they are working towards safe listening levels in workplaces, in neighborhoods and through sound limits in media. By working to identify the greatest threats to hearing they hope to slow the currently increasing numbers of people who deal with irreversible hearing loss.
Who is at Risk?
Age related hearing loss affects one in three people over the age of 65 and approximately half of those over 75. Even so, more and more people are injuring their hearing due to unsafe listening practices at work and during recreation. Some of the most at risk activities include musicians, construction workers and people who work in noisy nightclubs.
One of the most prevalent causes of hearing loss to younger generations is personal listening devices such as Smartphones, Ipods and other mp3 players. Earbuds and headphones are particularly an issue as they can easily blast unsafe levels of sound directly to the ear canal where it can quickly cause damage unaware to the listener.
WHO estimates that approximately 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are risking their hearing health every day due to the use of these personal listening devices.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Sounds help us communicate and connect to our environment. But when sound becomes too loud it can damage the tiny hairs of the inner ear, which send sound to the brain to be processed. The hairs cannot be re-grown and the damage to hearing is irreversible. Sound is measured in decibel levels and any sound that rises above 85 decibels can slowly begin to cause permanent hearing damage.
It is not just the decibel level but also the length of exposure. For instance 85 decibels for eight hours over a decade can cause significant hearing damage but as the decibel level climbs, the time it takes to cause serious damage becomes shorter. Personal listening devices can easily reach over 100 decibels causing permanent hearing damage in about an hour. These days because so much audio information is streamed, the amount of time we spend listening has become infinite. It is all too easy to listen to music over headphones for hours without giving our ears a needed break.
Guidelines for Safe Listening
WHO is fighting to make sure that safe guidelines are put in place to ensure that there are fewer opportunities for hearing damage. They are working to limit the available sound put out by personal listening devices to under 80 decibels making it safe to listen longer without damaging hearing.
This presents many challenges as media is often recorded at different decibel levels, creating fluctuations in sound. WHO is seeking to create technology that will limit decibel levels across the board. One of the most important methods WHO employs to protect people’s hearing is education. The power to protect your hearing rests with you. When you understand when your hearing is at risk you can take the proper steps to protect your hearing, ensuring healthy hearing ability for years to come.
Protect Your Hearing
It is a good idea to use hearing protection whenever you are in environments that could damage your hearing due to excessive noise. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recommends using hearing protection in any space where the volume exceeds 85 decibels. Workplaces must comply by law by making hearing protection available to all employees.
However there are many instances outside of workplaces that put our hearing at risk. Many daily and recreational activities produce dangerous listening levels. For instance a home lawnmower or even a noisy air conditioner could create listening levels that are unsafe. Know the levels around you.
If you are unsure there are smartphone apps available that can measure the ambient sound of a room to detect decibel levels over 85 or higher. If the sound exceeds safe limits make sure to wear hearing protection. Remember, that hearing damage is not always avoidable but when you take steps to protect your hearing you raise your chances of having healthy hearing for years to come!