Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.
From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain
And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem. Lori Mack, WNPR, reports on hearing experts’ growing concern about the potential health hazard earbuds and headphones pose to children. Mack states that “[s]tudies show hearing loss among kids and teens is up about 30 percent higher than it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” adding that “[e]xperts believe earphones are part of the problem.” A problem that turns on volume and time exposure. Simply put, the louder the sound, the less time it takes to damage your hearing.
Mack interviews audiologist Michele Abrams who spoke about limiting exposure to damaging sound:
When we think about decibel levels, when we think of loudness levels, it’s really incremental. It’s a logarithmic scale. It’s not a linear scale. So we know that 85 db is that critical level. Eighty-five db, eight hours a day, that’s your maximum. If it’s 90 db — five db greater — you have to cut your time in half.
While generally informative, Abrams’ comment unfortunately identifies 85 db, eight hours a day as the “critical level.” But this noise exposure level is too high. It was developed solely as an occupational noise exposure standard and should never be applied to the general public, certainly not to children. As Dr. Daniel Fink, a noted noise activist, wrote in, “What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?”:
In the absence of a federal standard, an occupational standard meant to prevent hearing loss appears to have become the de facto safe level for all public noise exposures. This is demonstrated by the use of 85 decibels as a safe sound level by hearing health professionals and their organizations, in media reports, and in publications, most often without time limits; by its use as a volume limit for children’s headphones marketed to prevent hearing loss, again without exposure times; and by general acceptance of higher indoor and outdoor noise levels in the United States.
* * *
Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed an 85 A-weighted decibel recommended exposure level to reduce the risk of hearing loss from occupational noise exposure. … Even with strict time limits, this standard does not protect all workers from hearing loss.
So what is a safe noise level for the public? Dr. Fink states:
In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation for additional exposure time: 24 instead of 8 hours daily and 365 instead of 240 days annually. The EPA calculated the safe noise level for the public to prevent hearing loss to be a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period… The EPA did not adjust for lifetime noise exposure, now almost 80 years versus 40 work-years, so the real average safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower.
One thing is clear, allowing children to use earbuds or headphones without limiting volume and time exposure is a recipe for hearing loss. Since the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise, and manufacturers are unlikely to design products that limit the user’s ability to deliver as many decibels as he or she wants, parents must step in to protect their children’s hearing. Here’s something that will help: Don’t allow your children to wear earbuds and headphones. Tell them that if they want to listen to music they must play it through a speaker. While this may be unpopular, know that you will be giving your children an important gift–the ability to listen to and enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.