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by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Cleveland Clinic makes the point that ringing in the ears–the technical term is tinnitus–after loud noise exposure indicates that permanent damage has occurred to the ears.

That’s good to know. I didn’t know that before a one-time exposure to loud noise ten years ago caused tinnitus for the rest of my life.

But I disagree strongly with two things Sharon A. Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology at the Cleveland Clinic, says in the online article.

One is her statement, “[a]s you get older, it’s natural to experience some hearing loss.”

No, it’s not natural to experience hearing loss with age. Hearing loss with age is very common, but it is not part of normal healthy aging, representing largely noise-induced hearing loss. I spoke about this last year at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zurich.

Dr. Sandridge’s second erroneous statement, with much more serious implications, is “[a] majority of people are safe listening to 85 dB for eight hours.”

This is just wrong! The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) doesn’t think so and neither do I.

Eighty-five decibels–actually 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) which usually measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted sound measurements–is the occupational noise exposure standard from NIOSH that even with strict time limits doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

The mathematics of the logarithmic decibel scale mean that after 2 hours of 85 dBA noise exposure, it is impossible to attain the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, 70 decibels time-weighted average for 24 hours.

Most Americans are exposed to too much noise. Because of that, about 25% of American adults have noise-induced hearing loss, including many without any occupational exposure.

We’re running a great natural experiment–does noise exposure cause hearing loss?–and the answer is obviously “yes”.

And statements like those of “experts” like Dr. Sandridge, minimizing the health risks of noise exposure, are unfortunately part of the problem.