Noise is one of the biggest health threats to Americans and to people around the world. But because of the heavy emphasis on other health threats such as chronic diseases and dangerous lifestyles, this threat is never talked about enough. According to statistics from the NIH, about 40 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. And most of this is due to exposure to harmful decibel levels. Read on to learn more about harmful decibel levels, whether you may be at risk, and more.
About harmful decibel levels
Decibel, also abbreviated simply as dB, is the unit of measurement for noise. The higher the decibel levels, the louder and more dangerous the noise is. Noises louder than 85 decibels are regarded as harmful. Continued exposure to noise above this level could and may cause hearing loss. The hearing loss can occur gradually where moderate noise is concerned or suddenly if noises of about 150dB or more are experienced. Young people below 12 years old and elderly persons aged above 60 years are said to be at a higher risk of hearing loss compared to other people.
How harmful decibel levels affect your hearing
Harmful noise affects your hearing by causing physical damage to the inner ear. Upon hearing loud noise, the sound waves enter the ear, travel past the ear drum and into the cochlea. The cochlea is the main chamber that makes up the inner ear. Here, sound waves are converted into electrical signals which are then transmitted to the brain for interpretation. The cochlea is lined with tiny delicate hairs which are responsible for converting the sound waves into electrical waves. Some of the hairs are responsible for translating high frequency sounds while others deal with low frequency sounds. Harmful decibel levels damage and break these hairs making them redundant. When this happens, hearing loss sets in. The high frequency hairs are often the most affected. And if all cochlea hairs are damaged, total hearing loss occurs. Most affected people have partial hearing loss and some have hearing difficulties only in one ear.
How to tell that the noise around you is at harmful levels
The key to avoiding noise-induced hearing loss is to identify harmful decibel levels around you. Loud noises are everywhere; from busy streets to music systems at home. The surest way to identify harmful decibels is via a decibel reader. However, it’s not practical to carry around one of these. Instead, use these pointers to identify harmful decibels:
- The noise makes your ears hurt.
- The noise makes your ears ring.
- The noise makes it difficult to hear someone speaking right next to you.
- The noise muffles your hearing temporarily once you get away from it.
If you identify harmful decibels around you, try to either reduce the noise or to get away from it. If both of these options are not possible, try to use ear protection. If you think that you’ve been exposed to prolonged harmful decibel levels and that your hearing may be affected as a result, visit a hearing specialist for an evaluation.
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