What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Nearly twice as many people report hearing loss as they do diabetes or cancer. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the only type of hearing loss that is potentially preventable.

Exposure to harmful noise can happen at any age. It can be caused by a one-time exposure to intense sound, such as an explosion, or by continued exposure to loud sounds over a long period of time. Recreational activities such as target shooting, hunting or loud concerts, and activities at home, such as the noise from lawnmowers and woodworking tools, are all culprits. Anyone listening to music through headphones at high volume is also at risk.

Distance from the source of the sound and the length of time exposed are important factors. A good rule of thumb is to avoid noises that are too loud, too close or last too long. Wear earplugs or specially designed earmuffs when engaging in activities with noises above 85 decibels (dB). For reference, normal conversation is 60 dB, a power mower is 90 dB and a siren is 120 dB. For more information, go to nidcdinfo@nidcd.nih.gov.

About the author

Lauren A. Matsko, Au.D., MPH, CCC-A