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Hearing loss: Listen up ...

April 11, 2008 | 12:31 pm

Risk300... and turn it down. Some 32.5 million people have a hearing loss, and for 30% of them, the loss could have been prevented. “Exposure to noise damages the microscopic hair cells found in the inner ear, which play a critical role in our ability to hear,” says Dr. Jose Fayad of the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, which investigates hearing loss at the cellular and molecular level. “The damage can be from a brief but intense noise, but is most often caused by regular exposure to excessive sound over the course of several years.”

Normal conversation comes in at a noise level of about 50 to 70 decibels, and no matter how boring or inane, it won’t hurt your ears. A motorcycle or lawn mower is 85 to 90 decibels, and eight hours of exposure to that level of sound can begin to damage hearing. But get the noise level up to 100 decibels, and it only takes 15 minutes for damage to begin. A rock concert, typically 110 to 120 decibels, or a jet takeoff at 119 to 140 decibels, starts doing damage in minutes.


The Institute has some tips. If you’re exposed to loud noise, over 85 decibels, take periodic 15-minute quiet breaks. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you’re in a potentially dangerous sound environment.

If you can’t get away from the noise, wear hearing protection, such as earplugs. And if you’re at a rock concert, move away from the amplifiers or speakers.

--Susan Brink

Images: Courtesy of House Ear Institute (pie chart created following guidelines from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)