If you had to guess the most common chronic illnesses affecting Americans, you’d probably think of ailments related to genetics or harmful lifestyle choices, such as excess consumption of high-calorie, high-sugar foods, cigarette smoking, or alcohol and drug use. The surprising truth is that hearing loss has become the third most common chronic health condition in the U.S., and noise pollution is a major contributor.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published in 2017, a quarter of adults have been affected by noise-induced hearing-loss or show signs of hearing impairment. Regular exposure to loud or constant noise has lasting effects on the ear, causing sound to become distorted or undetected by the brain. Although the mechanisms that enable humans to hear can recover over time, certain types of exposure can lead to permanent impairment to one’s hearing ability. All it may take is a single incident of extremely loud noise, even a very brief one, to result in lasting, irreversible damage.
Since we can only do so much to change our surroundings where some of the most extreme sounds can occur, it’s important to take note of decibel levels and control the noise where we can. This includes observing guidelines set forth by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSHA), which recommends that noise be limited to 85 decibels or less, and that workers are subjected to such noise levels for no more than eight hours a day. Such a level is still quite loud—loud enough to cause hearing loss.