More than 1 billion young people at risk of hearing loss

Photo credit: cottonbro studio

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A new study confirms what the World Health Organization has been saying for some years now: more than 1 billion young people could be at risk of noise-induced hearing loss because of personal listening device use and going to noisy clubs and rock concerts.

The numbers must be even greater than 1 billion, because the researchers used the industrial-strength 85 decibel (dB) noise exposure level to establish if young people were at risk of developing NIHL. 85 dB is not a safe noise exposure level, but is based on the 85 dBA (A-weighted*) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure level for noise. That noise exposure level won’t prevent hearing loss in factory workers, and it certainly isn’t a safe noise exposure level for the public.

The International Telecommunications Union recommends lower noise exposure for sensitive listeners, a category including younger people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses 70 dB as a safe noise level. That’s the average for 24 hour exposure but it is the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level that I have been able to find.

That’s also what the World Health Organization recommends, 70 dB average leisure noise exposure from all sources annually.

The actual safe noise exposure level to prevent NIHL has to be lower than 70 dB, for a variety of reasons. I will be discussing those reasons in a paper to be presented at the 183rd meeting of the Acoustical Society of Nashville on December 7. The safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower than you think

You don’t need to read the literature or understand science to protect your hearing.

Whether old or young or in between, if something sounds loud, it’s too loud and your hearing is at risk.

Turn down the volume, use hearing protection devices, or leave the noisy environment to protect your ears.

*A-weighting adjusts unweighted sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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