by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
GM Today, a website serving Greater Milwaukee, posted this piece from the Mayo Clinic about reducing risk of hearing loss, although “reducing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss” would be a more accurate descriptor.
Hearing loss has multiple causes: congenital hearing loss, genetic conditions that lead to early hearing loss, ear infections such as recurrent or chronic otitis media, other infectious diseases such as measles or meningitis, ototoxic drugs, and head trauma among them. But by the time Americans reach old age, the overwhelming majority of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss, caused by a lifetime of excessive noise exposure.
Five years ago, the CDC found that about a quarter of American adults age 20-69 had noise-induced hearing loss, most without significant occupational noise exposure.
The Mayo Clinic correctly notes that “[i]n general, noises that fall below 70 decibels do not harm your ears. Damage can occur when noises are above that level. The higher the decibel level, the more damage your ears experience.” That advice is based on information from the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC, which in turn is based on an analysis done by the EPA in 1974. For decades, those giving advice about noise exposure to the public, including almost all audiologists and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, cited the occupational 85 A-weighted decibel (dBA)* noise level as safe for the public, That was never true.
So I’m glad the Mayo Clinic, following the information provided by the CDC, is providing correct information to the public.
Why does this matter? If something is part of normal aging–looking in the mirror, thinning gray hair comes to mind–we just have to accept it. I suppose one can deal with it cosmetically–hair color, a different hair style, even wigs–but those don’t really change the reality of aging. But if a condition common with older age–muscle weakness, obesity, hypertension, or diabetes come to mind–is not normal physiological aging, but rather pathological aging that can be prevented by exercise and diet, something can be done about it.
And something can be done about preventing noise-induced hearing loss, starting in early childhood. Avoid loud noise exposure, use hearing protection, or leave the noisy environment.
Because to reduce the risk of hearing loss, specifically noise-induced hearing loss, all one has to do is remember one sentence: If it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your hearing is at risk.