Loud noise exposure is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. The World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people globally, ages 12-35, are at increased risk of developing noise induced hearing loss. This is due to excessive exposure to loud noise in public venues as well as personal listening devices. To address this, WHO has established international standards for safe listening and events. These guidelines are a major step towards protecting hearing health, reducing the risk of hearing loss.
Safe Listening Standards
Music venues and events are common places that expose people to loud noise. These spaces and events typically do not offer alternative listening options that would be safer for hearing. WHO identified standards for venues and events to implement which would reduce the risk of hazardous levels of noise. These six standards are:
- A maximum average sound level of 100 decibels.
- Live monitoring and recording of sound levels using calibrated equipment by designated staff.
- Optimizing venue acoustics and sound systems to ensure enjoyable sound quality and safe listening.
- Having an availability of personal hearing protection for people to use (with instructions).
- Access to quiet zones for people to rest their ears and decrease the risk of hearing damage.
- Providing training and information to staff.
These recommendations, part of WHO’s Make Listening Safe campaign, mitigate the potential impact of loud noise exposure. They also urge venues and events to participate in reducing the risk of hearing loss, making concerts enjoyable and safe. These standards are useful ways to reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss.
Understanding Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Exposure to loud noise can take a toll on hearing. Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which are critical to how we hear and process sound. These sensory cells receive sound waves and convert them into electrical signals that then get carried to the brain. The brain further processes these signals, assigning meaning to them, which is what allows us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can desensitize these hair cells which are in the cochlea and are highly delicate. Desensitization makes them increasingly vulnerable to dying which prevents them from performing their essential function, causing permanent hearing loss.
Unlike other types of cells we have, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. Humans are actually born with all the hair cells we will ever have – about 16,000 in each ear. This means that any damage or injury is permanent. There are also no medical interventions that can correct or replenish these hair cells, resulting in chronic noise induced hearing loss. So how loud is too loud for sound to damage hearing?
Sound is measured in units referred to as decibels (dB) and according to experts, sound above 85dB can be hazardous for hearing health. This is the equivalent of busy city traffic, noisy restaurants at peak hour, and a hair dryer. People can be exposed to 85dB for 8 hours a day without compromising their hearing health. But for sound that exceeds this, exposure time needs to be drastically reduced. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) recommends that exposure be reduced by half for every increase of 3 decibels of sound (after 85dB). Their guidelines for safe listening include:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 30min
Surpassing these safety hearing thresholds can damage hearing. The average level of sound at a concert is around 100dB. At this level, safe exposure time is around 7 minutes which is only one song or two! This highlights the importance of safety protocols that can be implemented to protect hearing which is especially important in places like music venues.
More Tips to Protect Your Hearing Health
There are also several ways you can protect your hearing. This includes practicing the following safety measures:
- Wear hearing protection: this includes headphones, earbuds, or earmuffs which offer a protective barrier for the ears. Hearing protection reduces the amount of loud noise you absorb.
- Take listening breaks: be sure to give your ears and brain a break from constantly absorbing and processing sound. You can do this by going to quieter areas for a few minutes during a show or event.
- Have hearing tested: regular hearing tests are a great way to track your hearing health and any changes you may experience.
These tips can prevent you from damaging your hearing. Contact us to learn more about how you can protect your hearing health.