Photo credit: Ludwig Kwan

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

That’s the title of this piece by freelance writer Madeleine Burry on HealthyHearing.com, which appears to be sponsored by the Oticon hearing aid company.

I might change the title to “What the public needs to know about hearing protection,” and use a lower noise exposure threshold at which to begin using hearing protection devices.

Burry quotes audiologist Moira Daley Bell, Aud.D, as saying, “[h]earing protection is recommended anytime one’s environment exceeds 80 dBA” (A-weighted decibels*). At least Bell doesn’t parrot the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association’s inaccurate statement, “[s]ounds at 85 dBA can lead to hearing loss if you listen to them for more than 8 hours at a time.” 85 dBA is the occupational noise exposure standard that doesn’t prevent hearing loss in workers, let alone the general public!

I’d rely more on the CDC than Dr. Bell or ASHA. The CDC states that “[n]oise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing.”  Seventy dB for a day is the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss that I have been able to find.

Perhaps the most important things to know about noise is that each of us has his or her own noise safety threshold, based on genetics, history of prior noise exposures, vascular disease, smoking history, and many other factors. It’s not currently possible to predict which individuals are more or less susceptible to auditory damage** from noise, so it’s best to remember this simple rule: If it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk. Turn down the volume, use hearing protection, or leave the noisy environment.

* A-weighting adjusts decibel measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

** Auditory damage includes noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.