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Andrew B. Silva, MD
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Virginia Head & Neck Surgeons, PC

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that approximately 28 million Americans have lost some or all of their hearing. Hearing loss has traditionally been considered a disease of the elderly. Quite to the contrary, hearing loss occurs in 17 out of every 1,000 children in the United States. The incidence of noise induced hearing loss is steadily rising in our population along with the wide spread use of portable MP3 players and the lack of earplugs being used at concerts.
Loud noise has been documented to cause a sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), which is defined as a hearing loss resulting from damage to the hearing organ (cochlea) or hearing nerve. It is a permanent loss of hearing which can not be corrected by medicine or surgery. SNHL will not only reduce the perception of sound, but it will greatly reduce a person's ability to hear clearly and understand speech.
MP3 players are gaining increasing popularity among our young children and adults. The sound from an iPod Shuffle has been measured at 115 decibels. Decibels (dB) measure the loudness of sound. To put this in perspective, a whisper is at 30 dB, normal conversation is at 60 dB, and an airplane engine is at 90-110 dB. There is virtually no risk for hearing loss when you are exposed to noise less than 80 dB. Over 80 dB, the risk for hearing loss grows rapidly for the high frequencies and more slowly for the low frequencies.
An Australian government survey showed that 25% of all people who use portable MP3 players had daily noise exposures high enough to cause hearing damage. Further studies have shown that young people aged 18-24 were more likely to exceed safe listening limits.
Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have determined that listening to a portable music player at 60% of its volume for one hour per day is relatively safe. Exceeding these recommendations puts the person at risk for noise induced hearing loss.
Another important cause of noise induced hearing loss is attending a concert without hearing protection. Medical studies have shown that sound levels at rock concerts often exceed 85 dB and can reach up to 122 dB. Experts agree that continued exposure to noise above 85dB for long periods of time will cause hearing loss.
Hearing protection is always recommended for use at a rock concert. A good rule of thumb is that when a child accompanies a parent to any activity with excessive noise, ear protection should be worn by the entire family. Ear plugs can be molded and made by any board certified audiologist. Remember, noise induced hearing loss is entirely preventable by turning down your MP3 player and wearing earplugs in situations with loud music.
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