In a recent poll conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Millennials to Baby Boomers agree that society is too noisy.1 Employees in noisy workplaces are twice as likely to suffer hearing loss but according to the CDC’s February 2017 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 20% of adults surveyed who denied working in noisy jobs have some degree of hearing loss.2
Summer activities like concerts, fireworks and sporting events are usually blamed as ear-damaging venues, yet daily exposure to loud noises in common areas like gyms, restaurants, bars, clubs, and even yard work pose just as great a threat. Symptoms can manifest years later and commonly present as difficulty understanding speech, despite being able to hear a wide range of sounds. This “hidden hearing loss” is from “damage to auditory nerve synapses that cannot be detected by a standard audiogram, but which aggravates our ability to understand speech and other complex sounds.”4
What is a safe level of sound? The common understanding is that prolonged or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB leads to hearing loss. That level is based on standards established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for employees working a typical career of five eight-hour workdays for 40 years. Dr. Daniel Fink argues that this standard does not protect the public who are exposed to more cumulative noise over an entire lifetime. He states that the only evidence-based public safe noise level is 70 dB, which originated from a 1974 Environmental Protection Agency report.5
Patient’s Needs Primary care providers play a critical role in starting the conversation with patients about their hearing status and protecting hearing throughout their lives. Patients expect their healthcare provider to ask them about their hearing and 80% of ASHA poll respondents said that their hearing status is extremely or very important to them.1
Health care providers can counsel their patients to:
- Avoid noisy places whenever possible.
- Use earplugs, protective earmuffs, or noise-canceling headphones when near loud noises (most earplugs have a Noise Reduction Rating of 22 dB).
- Keep the volume down when watching TV, listening to music, and using earbuds or headphones.
- Ensure patients receive a hearing checkup annually.
- Refer patients to a hearing health specialist if they fail a basic hearing screening, have been exposed to loud noises, have tinnitus
Symptoms or have noticed a change in hearing. There is no cure for hearing loss, so prevention both at work and in the community is important. Brian Fligor, ScD, chief audiology officer at Lantos Technologies and former director of diagnostic audiology at Boston Children’s Hospital states, “These are largely man-made disorders, and there should be man-made remedies for them. When it comes to noise-induced hearing loss, that ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure—which is really a pound of management, not a cure.”4 Check in with your Audiologist regularly.
- Pierson F. From Millennials to Baby Boomers, U.S. Adults Say Public Places Are Too Noisy. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. May 3, 2017. URL Source: https://www.multivu.com/players/English/7921051-asha-survey-noise-public-places/
- Too Loud! For Too Long! Loud Noises Damage Hearing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. February 7, 2017. URL and Infographic Source: www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/HearingLoss.
- Fink D, Pollard B and Howard J. I Wish I Had Been Wearing Earplugs. Hearing Health Foundation. Summer 2016, 22-23. URL Source: https://view.publitas.com/p222-4764/hearing-health-summer-2016-issue/page/22-23
- Shaw G. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: What Your Patients Don’t Know Can Hurt Them. (2017). Hearing Journal 70(5): 26-28. URL Source: http://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/Fulltext/2017/05000/Noise_Induced_Hearing_Loss___What_Your_Patients.1.aspx
- Fink D. What Is a Safe noise Level for the Public? Am J Public health. 2017 January; 107(1): 44-45. URL Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5308171/