October is fittingly National Protect Your Hearing Month. It's fitting, especially in Austin, where we have two weekends of Austin City Limits Music Festival followed by Formula One — all very loud.
The F1 cars did get quieter in recent years from 145 decibels to 134 decibels to MotorSport.com estimating that the 2016 cars were 128 decibels. A rock concert is estimated to be about 110 decibels, the same as standing next to a chainsaw.
A few years ago, we had audiologist Dr. Heather M. Lamberth of Austin Regional Clinic explains what those numbers mean to you and your family’s ears. If you're listening to something at 110 decibels, after about two minutes you’ve damaged the hair cells in your ear’s cochlea that allow you to hear, she says. Immediate damage happens at about 140, similar to a jet engine taking off. The damage is permanent and cumulative, Lamberth says. You’re born with about 16,000 cochlear hair cells, and they don’t grow back.
Afterward, your ears might feel full or be ringing. That ringing might go away or might not. For young children, the worry is that hearing loss can affect communication development and their ability to succeed in school.
The best thing to do is to wear earplugs. If your family goes to concerts or loud events a lot, you might want earplugs that are fitted to you that filter out the noise so you can still have a conversation; it’s just not as loud.
If you’re only occasionally at a loud event, pick up some earplugs at a drugstore. Look for the Noise Reduction Rating and pick the highest one you can get. Usually that will be between a 28 to 35 decibel reduction.
Even though Lamberth is concerned about the loudness of F1 or a concert, it’s what our kids are doing every day that might be why researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found a 31 percent increase in hearing loss for preteens and teens ages 12-19 from 1988-1994 compared with 2005-2006.
You know that smartphone and its ear buds that seem to be permanently attached to your teen and preteen? Those personal listening devices could be to blame. Lamberth recommends your child listen to the iPod at 50 percent or less of the maximum volume. Maximum volume would be about 115 decibels. As you walk by your child, you should not be able to hear her music.
If you think your child has had some hearing loss, isn’t responding to loud noise or has had frequent ear infections, get her hearing checked.
And just in case you wanted to know, loud yelling at the teenager is only 80-90 decibels, and they can go hours listening to that without hurting their ears or getting the message.
The CDC offers these tips:
Is the noise too loud? If you need to shout to make yourself heard, yes.
After a very loud event, such as a concert or football game, normal hearing usually returns within a few hours to a few days — however, repeated exposure to loud noises will eventually damage the inner ear permanently.
Protect your hearing by turning the volume down, of course, and also taking periodic breaks from the noise and using hearing protection, such as earplugs and hearing protection earmuffs.
Signs that you may have hearing loss include difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds (e.g., doorbell, telephone, alarm clock) and difficulty understanding conversations in a noisy place.
By the Numbers
Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine is about 95 dB.
Noise above 85 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Almost twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer.
In the United States, about 40 million adults aged 20–69 years have noise-induced hearing loss, and about 1 in 4 adults who report “excellent to good” hearing already have hearing damage.
Over half of all adults with hearing damage do not have noisy jobs.