Back to HSDC News Listing

How Much Do You Know About Hearing Health?

In March, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced a $250,000 public health campaign around hearing loss prevention. Earlier, in 2005, Operation Silent Night was signed into law, cracking down on some of the worst noise offenders in the City, such as jackhammers and loud club music spilling out into the street. Seattle may not be as large or notorious for noise violations, but our residents are just as much in need of a public health campaign promoting hearing health care and hearing loss prevention.

We associate hearing loss with our grandparents’ generation, and roll our eyes with the memory of Grandpa’s huge beige nugget of a hearing aid whistling as loud as Grandma’s tea kettle, both of them unaware of the inadvertent symphony of acoustic torture, but that’s just not true anymore. Thanks to ever-present personal listening devices with their headphones and ear buds, industrialization, urban living, and all the noisy, wonderful technologies that demand our attention, more and more working professionals and even young adults are being fit with hearing aids to offset their damaged hearing.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, “one in five teens has some form of hearing loss—a rate about 30% higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s—which many experts believe is due, in part, to the increased use of headphones.” And once you lose it, you never get it back. Damage to your cochlea—the elegantly designed, snail-shaped part of your ear that detects sound—is permanent, so it’s critical that you treat hearing checks as part of your general preventative health, just like going to the dentist and your annual physical.

In addition to the ubiquitous presence of ear buds, Seattle is home to an active live music scene and many high risk work environments including Boeing plants, dockyards, sporting arenas, concert venues, etc. While people who work in some of these environments should receive hearing protection from their employers as recommended by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), these recommendations don’t apply to all industries, and no one is forcing concert goers to put on ear muffs.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of damaging your hearing is not knowing there’s a problem. Permanent hearing losses can go undetected for years before you decide it’s time to see an audiologist. But in the meantime, you’re working harder to keep up in conversations with your friends and in meetings, turning up the TV, and making all those subtle requests for the repeat of a question. In children, even a minor loss can cause delays in speech and language delays, putting them at risk of falling behind in school.

Monitoring and managing your hearing health is part of a comprehensive preventative health program. Our public health bodies have a responsibility to inform the public about these kinds of basic measures they can take to protect themselves and their families. As it is, hearing health doesn’t even make it on the long list of health topics highlighted on the King County Department of Public Health website.

It’s time for Seattleites—and our public health officials—to start taking hearing health care seriously. We can start by encouraging everyone to turn down the volume and to schedule their annual hearing check-up. Let’s take a cue from the Big Apple and cut the noise!

Ben Gilham, Au.D.

Audiologist at Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center

Ben is a published researcher, (The Hearing Journal and the American Journal of Audiology) and spends his free time at concerts, listening to music, and blogging about local music.

Exposure Time

dB

Sound

Instantaneous permanent damage  

140+

Shotgun, rifle, jetplane takeoff
Less than one second  

130

jackhammer, heavy industry
Less than ten seconds
Threshold of pain

120

Rock concert
1.5 minutes  

110

Power tools, snowmobile
15 minutes  

100

Chainsaw, motorcycle
2.5 hours  

90

Lawn mower
8 hours  

85

Beginning of Danger Zone
Prolonged exposure to noise levels 85dB and
higher can result in permanent hearing loss.
 

80

City Traffic

70

Vacuum cleaner, hair dryer

60

Office, sewing machine

50

Normal conversation

40

Refrigerator

30

Whisper

20

Rustling leaves
Common noise levels (dB), and their effect
upon hearing.

10

Breathing

0

Threshold of normal hearing

How Much Do You Know About Hearing Health?

In March, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced a $250,000 public health campaign around hearing loss prevention. Earlier, in 2005, Operation Silent Night was signed into law, cracking down on some of the worst noise offenders in the City, such as jackhammers and loud club music spilling out into the street. Seattle may not be as large or notorious for noise violations, but our residents are just as much in need of a public health campaign promoting hearing health care and hearing loss prevention.

We associate hearing loss with our grandparents’ generation, and roll our eyes with the memory of Grandpa’s huge beige nugget of a hearing aid whistling as loud as Grandma’s tea kettle, both of them unaware of the inadvertent symphony of acoustic torture, but that’s just not true anymore. Thanks to ever-present personal listening devices with their headphones and ear buds, industrialization, urban living, and all the noisy, wonderful technologies that demand our attention, more and more working professionals and even young adults are being fit with hearing aids to offset their damaged hearing.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, “one in five teens has some form of hearing loss—a rate about 30% higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s—which many experts believe is due, in part, to the increased use of headphones.” And once you lose it, you never get it back. Damage to your cochlea—the elegantly designed, snail-shaped part of your ear that detects sound—is permanent, so it’s critical that you treat hearing checks as part of your general preventative health, just like going to the dentist and your annual physical.

In addition to the ubiquitous presence of ear buds, Seattle is home to an active live music scene and many high risk work environments including Boeing plants, dockyards, sporting arenas, concert venues, etc. While people who work in some of these environments should receive hearing protection from their employers as recommended by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), these recommendations don’t apply to all industries, and no one is forcing concert goers to put on ear muffs.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of damaging your hearing is not knowing there’s a problem. Permanent hearing losses can go undetected for years before you decide it’s time to see an audiologist. But in the meantime, you’re working harder to keep up in conversations with your friends and in meetings, turning up the TV, and making all those subtle requests for the repeat of a question. In children, even a minor loss can cause delays in speech and language delays, putting them at risk of falling behind in school.

Monitoring and managing your hearing health is part of a comprehensive preventative health program. Our public health bodies have a responsibility to inform the public about these kinds of basic measures they can take to protect themselves and their families. As it is, hearing health doesn’t even make it on the long list of health topics highlighted on the King County Department of Public Health website.

It’s time for Seattleites—and our public health officials—to start taking hearing health care seriously. We can start by encouraging everyone to turn down the volume and to schedule their annual hearing check-up. Let’s take a cue from the Big Apple and cut the noise!

Ben Gilham, Au.D.

Audiologist at Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center

Ben is a published researcher, (The Hearing Journal and the American Journal of Audiology) and spends his free time at concerts, listening to music, and blogging about local music.

Exposure Time

dB

Sound

Instantaneous permanent damage  

140+

Shotgun, rifle, jetplane takeoff
Less than one second  

130

jackhammer, heavy industry
Less than ten seconds
Threshold of pain

120

Rock concert
1.5 minutes  

110

Power tools, snowmobile
15 minutes  

100

Chainsaw, motorcycle
2.5 hours  

90

Lawn mower
8 hours  

85

Beginning of Danger Zone
Prolonged exposure to noise levels 85dB and
higher can result in permanent hearing loss.
 

80

City Traffic

70

Vacuum cleaner, hair dryer

60

Office, sewing machine

50

Normal conversation

40

Refrigerator

30

Whisper

20

Rustling leaves
Common noise levels (dB), and their effect
upon hearing.

10

Breathing

0

Threshold of normal hearing