“Hearing is a special sense. What you have is what you’re born with. If you damage it, it doesn’t come back,” states Peter Thorne of the Deafness Research Foundation. This is critical to understand especially with the growing problem of noise pollution and how that impacts our hearing. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is permanent hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. One’s hearing deteriorated gradually from the noise exposure over time.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other communication Disorders (NIDCD), 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise, and 30 to 50 million more are exposed to dangerous noise levels every day. Noise pollution not only leads to hearing loss, but has secondary effects on health ranging from heart disease to diabetes and other stress related conditions.
Everyday Sounds Can Be Harmful?
Sound is all around us and is an essential part of our lives. We hear birds chirping in the morning to the tree leaves rustling in the wind to the waves crashing the shore. These sounds are safe and are an enjoyable part of life, but noise on the other hand, is generally the unpleasant or unwanted sounds within our lives. The modern world we live in today is full of noise that is considered a pollution, a serious issue not only to the environment, but the people that exist within it.
Noises coming from cars honking in busy traffic to an airplane flying overhead to fireworks on the Fourth of July all are considered noise pollution. The World Health Organization states that levels of noise pollution in certain cities are seriously harming health and activity.
How Loud is Too Loud?
At what level is hearing damaged? Audiologist Natalie Gibbs says that 85 decibels (dB) is harmful if you are exposed for an extended period of time. Once sounds reach 85 dB or above, there is a potential that the noise could cause permanent damage to your hearing.
To put that number into perspective, the noise of a garbage truck is 100db and an ambulance siren is at around 120db. Even for those of you who may not live in urban areas, you could also be victims of noise pollution as well. If you attend any type of large-scale event like a fireworks show, air and water show, concert or sporting event, the noise levels emanating from these environments are far above the 85db threshold that makes it safe.
Hearing Loss & Health Impacts from Noise Pollution
You may be a victim to noise induced hearing loss if you’ve been exposed to environments with higher than 85dB for prolonged periods of time, or experienced a sudden “impulse” of sound (gunshot, fireworks, etc.) Sounds that were once clear may now be muffled or distorted.
Studies have also shown that hearing loss leads to social isolation, which ultimately impacts mental health. In addition to these negative health outcomes due to hearing loss, extremely loud noises can lead to tinnitus–ringing or buzzing in the ears and head–as well. Over time, the tinnitus may subside, but could possibly remain throughout a person’s life.
Wyatt Page, Associate Professor of acoustics and human health in the School of Health Sciences at Massey University states, “it’s not just our hearing that suffers from high volumes…cardiovascular health is impacted” as well. Certain noises affect our nervous system, including the vagus nerve that controls our heart rate. This nerve keeps our heart rate under control but if certain noises impact our stress, the tone diminishes leading to a weaker cardiovascular system.
Another link between noise and health is what goes on when we’re asleep. Noises that may not even wake up can impact the quality of our sleep by interfering the deep periods of rest that are crucial to our wellbeing.
Prevention and Treatment for Noise-induced Hearing Loss
Knowledge is power. Understand what noise levels are dangerous to our hearing and health. Turn down the volume on your music device first. Be sure to wear hearing protection on your daily commute and always bring earplugs to a concert or sporting event.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of NIHL, seek a hearing test from us at Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center. We’ll be able to determine your level of hearing loss, provide important tips to protect your hearing, and work with you in finding solutions and treatment that meet your specific needs!