by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
October is National Protect Your Hearing Month!
As I have noted before, I’m not a big believer in special months or days to celebrate or honor or remind us of people or things that should be celebrated or honored or observed every day, but the special days and months may serve as a useful reminder of the people or things. Hearing protection is one of those things that should be observed every day.
Hearing loss represents the cumulative impact of a lifetime of noise exposure, just as skin discoloration, deep wrinkles, and skin cancers represent the cumulative impact of a lifetime of sun exposure.
The basics of hearing protection are very easy:
- Avoid noise exposure, or wear hearing protection (ear plugs or ear muffs) if you can’t.
- The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a daily average of 75 decibels.
- If a noise sounds loud, it is too loud and your hearing is at risk.
I would add a caveat and some scientific information to support my three points.
The caveat: The commonly cited 85 decibel noise level is not a safe noise exposure level for the public, but an occupational noise exposure level that doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. Don’t believe the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders or misinformed audiologists when they promulgate dangerous misinformation with statements like, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss (dBA means A-weighted decibels. A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.) Auditory damage probably begins at sound exposure levels far below 85 decibels, and after only one hour of exposure to 85 decibel sound it’s impossible to achieve the safe daily average of 70 decibels for 24 hours.
The science: A literature review, now confirmed by research published this year, demonstrates that there is no such thing as age-related hearing loss. Hearing loss is not part of normal aging but largely represents noise-induced hearing loss.
More science: Noise exposure in daily life is loud enough to cause hearing loss. A 2017 CDC study showed that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, many without significant occupational exposure to noise.
Your ears are like your knees–you only have two of them. So protect them, because unlike your knees, your ears can’t be replaced.
Protect your ears and protect your hearing during National Protect Your Hearing Month, and during every month!
Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.