Repeated exposure to loud noise is one of the most common causes of permanent hearing loss. It usually develops slowly and without pain or other symptoms, and you may not notice that you have a hearing loss until it is severe. Steps you can take to lower your risk of noise-induced hearing loss include the following:
• Be aware of and avoid harmful noise. You can be exposed to harmful noise at work, at home, and in many other settings. Commonly used tools such as power lawn mowers and snowblowers can cause hearing loss, as can riding motorcycles and snowmobiles. Know what kinds of situations can generate harmful noise levels, and avoid these situations whenever possible. For information about recommended noise limits and hearing protection in workplaces in the United States, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (For more information, see the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic.).
• Use hearing protection. If you know you are going to be exposed to harmful noise, wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs. (Cotton balls or tissues stuffed in the ears do not offer much protection.) When used correctly, hearing protection can significantly reduce the level of sound that reaches the ear. Lawn mowers, power tools, and some basic household appliances can damage your hearing if you do not wear hearing protectors.
• Minimize your total daily noise exposure. Noise exposure and the damage it can cause build up over time.
The potential for damage to your hearing increases with the total amount of time you spend exposed to noise. If your job exposes you to high noise levels on a regular basis, try to avoid noisy situations in your leisure time. • Control the volume when you can. Don’t buy noisy toys, appliances, or tools when there are quieter alternatives. Reduce the noise in your life by turning down the volume on the stereo, television, or car radio. Harmful noise levels Any sound that is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage hearing and lead to hearing loss. The effects of noise on hearing vary somewhat from person to person; some people’s ears are more sensitive to high-volume sounds, especially at certain frequencies. (The frequency of a sound determines how low or high a sound is. This often is called pitch.) A sound’s loudness (intensity) is measured in decibels (dB). Normal conversation is about 60 dB; a lawn mower is about 90 dB; a loud rock concert is about 120 dB. In general, sounds above 85 dB are considered potentially harmful, depending on how long and how often you are exposed to them and whether you wear hearing protection.