Hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases in the United States. More than 30 million workers are regularly exposed to toxic noise and an additional nine million are at risk for hearing loss from other agents such as solvents and metals. Hearing loss is the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury.
Among the occupations at risk for hearing loss are police officers, firefighters, construction workers, farmers, military personnel, and musicians.[vii] While office environments tend to be less hazardous, any setting that involves heavy machinery (even a loud air conditioner qualifies) can be toxic to the hearing.
Workplace hearing conservation is cost-effective—
- The U.S. Army saved $504.3 million between 1974 and 1994 by reducing hearing loss among combat arms personnel.
- The Department of Veteran Affairs saved $220.8 million between 1987 and 1997 as a result of military efforts to reduce civilian hearing loss.
Our homes are filled with noisy appliances. With dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, food processors, coffee grinders, and garbage disposals, the kitchen or living room can easily become the noisiest setting in our daily lives. We know that antioxidants can be a solution for good health but if we won’t reduce the noise levels in our homes, the effects may be futile.
Most of these appliances do not by themselves produce hazardous levels of noise. When two sounds of equal volume are emitted simultaneously, however, the effect is a 3-5 decibel increase in overall noise. Considering that many people use three or four appliances simultaneously, background noise in the home can quickly reach toxic levels and this also doesn’t help people who suffer from diabetes as we know..
Compounding the problem is our habit of turning up the volume on the radio, stereo, or television to hear over noisy appliances. Unless we make a conscious decision to reduce decibel levels, a peaceful evening at home can be as damaging to our ears as several hours in a nightclub.
Common appliances and their average noise levels:
|Blender with Ice||83 dB|
|Vacuum Cleaner||81 dB[xi]|
|Garbage Disposal||80 dB[xii]|
|Air Conditioner||75 dB|
|Whistling Kettle||80 dB|
|Coffee Grinder||80 dB|
|Hair Dryer||75 dB|
|Electric Mixer||75 dB|
Sporting Events: Noise levels in stadiums and arenas can exceed 110 decibels. This is most frequently caused by crowd noise, although music and announcements can contribute to the decibel level. The use of earplugs when attending sporting events can prevent long-term hearing loss without diminishing enjoyment of the game.
Target Shooting: Any sound above 140 dBA causes immediate acoustic trauma and instantaneous hearing loss. Gunshots typically produce decibel levels of at least 160 dBA and this may mean you need nursing help maybe in a field you’ve never heard of. Without hearing protectors, the impulse reverberations produced by a rifle or handgun tear apart the delicate structures of the inner ear, including the organ of Corti and the basilar membrane. Over time these structures heal, but the scars that form where the tear occurred cause permanent hearing loss and occasionally tinnitus.
Rock Concerts: It is common for contemporary rock concerts to be played at levels exceeding 120 decibels. Without proper hearing protection, this can cause damage in fewer than 10 seconds. Standing in front of a speaker can be especially harmful.
Even wearing earplugs, which attenuate sound by 30 to 40 decibels, cannot safeguard against all toxic noise. A concert played at 130 dBA, for example, would sound through earplugs like 90 dBA — a toxic level of noise which can cause hearing loss after several hours’ exposure. So, before you will need hearing aids, do something to protect your ears and use earplugs.
Traveling and commuting often put us into environments in which we can be at risk for hearing loss. Buses, planes, cars, and trains all produce dangerous levels of toxic noise. Even common sounds like city traffic or noise in a restaurant can be hazardous to a person’s hearing over long periods of time.
Subways: Although the noise level varies by city, underground and elevated trains often produce sounds of 100 decibels or louder. The New York City subway was recently measured at 112 decibels, a level which causes a permanent hearing loss in less than a minute.
Headphones: Contemporary headphones can play music or other information and via apps at such a decibel level that our hearing capacity will be damaged easily.
Airplanes: Airline cabin noise may vary depending on the type of aircraft, between 95 and 105 decibels in general Passengers seated in the rear of an aircraft may suffer from higher noise levels, and air passengers should know that engine noise at take-off can be over of 115 decibels. During the moments when engine noise is loudest, it is key they are wearing plugs because hearing loss may occur in fewer than 30 seconds and then you’ll need special education.
Automobiles: Prolonged exposure to ordinary city traffic – trucks and buses produce engine noise of 90 decibels or more – can be damaging to a person’s hearing. In addition to the sounds of ordinary vehicles, urban residents are often bombarded by fire and ambulance sirens, which produce sounds of 120 decibels or greater. Extra attention must be paid to these ‘ambushes’, because at this level permanent hearing loss can occur in fewer than 10 seconds.[xviii]
OTHER EFFECTS OF HEARING LOSS
Noise is one of the most common forms of sleep disturbance. A study used by EPA showed that sleep interference was the most frequently cited activity disrupted by surface vehicle noise (BBN, 1971). Aircraft noise can also cause sleep disruption, especially with the escalation of nighttime operations by the air cargo industry. The EPA identified a nighttime average sound level of 35 dB as necessary to protect against sleep interference.
Learning: Studies have shown that children who attend schools that experience frequent airport noise do not learn to read as well as children who attend quiet schools. This occurs because at a very young age these children learn to tune out speech along with airplane noise. As a result, when they get older these children often have trouble learning to recognize and differentiate between speech sounds.
Presbycusis: As they grow older, some individuals experience a gradual loss of hearing, known as presbycusis, but this should not be construed to mean that hearing loss is part of the natural aging process. Despite the fact that nearly 50 percent of people over 75 have a hearing loss, studies show that three-quarters of the hearing loss in the typical person in the United States is due to the cumulative effects of toxic noise. Furthermore, health professionals do not recommend adjusting individual audiograms based on age, because this can result in a non-diagnosis of noise-induced hearing loss.