How Can Hearing Loss Be Prevented?

Shaeleen M Fagre, AuD

Audiologist at the University of Minnesota

A common cause of hearing loss is loud noise. Noise at damaging levels can cause both permanent and temporary hearing loss, particularly for sounds above 85 decibels.¹ It is probably no surprise to you that the best way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid sounds at or exceeding damaging levels, both at work and home.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises that 85dB is the loudest sound that worker should be exposed to over an 8 hour period. OSHA also outlines that as the damaging sound gets louder, a worker must spend less time exposed to the sound to avoid hearing damage.² It is also a good idea to also consider sounds that you may be exposed to outside of your workplace. Be aware of common sounds such as appliances, traffic, flights, machinery and equipment, firearms, and listening to music or attending concerts. Consider loud sounds in your environment that you are both frequently and infrequently exposed to. Some may assume that frequent exposure to loud sounds is required to cause noise induced hearing loss. However, exposure to a loud enough sound, even one time, could potentially cause hearing damage.

Unless you have a sound level meter or a smartphone application to measure sound level, it may be difficult to identify if you are in a situation that is loud enough to potentially cause hearing damage. The question that comes to mind is, how does one identify a sound that may cause hearing damage? One option is to measure the sound. If you have concerns, you could consider downloading a smartphone application such as The NIOSH Sound Level Meter (NIOSH SLM) application for iOS devices. This is a free option that was created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.³

If you do not have a way to measure sound, there are other guidelines available that may help you decide if you are in an environment with potentially damaging sound levels. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association identifies possible signs that your environment is too loud as: “you must raise your voice to be heard, you can't hear someone 3 feet away from you, speech around you sounds muffled or dull after you leave the noisy area, and you have pain or ringing in your ears (this is called 'tinnitus') after exposure to noise¹.” If you notice any of these concerns in your environment, consider reducing the sound level when possible or simply leaving the noisy situation.

The best way to prevent hearing loss is to reduce your exposure to loud sounds. Consider wearing properly fitting hearing protection, lowering the level of the sound, avoiding loud sound exposure when possible, reading labels to find out what the reported sound levels are for products, and advocating for yourself and others if you have concerns that a local restaurant, bar, health club, etc, may be exposing patrons and employees to dangerous sound levels.