Environmental Noise Threatens Hearing & Health

April 3, 2003
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) is sending a nationwide wake-up call to the American public about the growing danger of hazardous environmental noise levels.

It is estimated that 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels on a regular basis, an increase of 10 million from just a few years ago. As people engage in outdoor recreational and home maintenance activities in the spring and summer months, they are increasingly exposed to common hazardous noises. ASHA launched a new multi-media public service campaign to raise awareness and educate the general public about hazardous noise and its impact on hearing health.

"We have become a noisy society and that noise is slowly robbing us of our hearing," says Glenda Ochsner, ASHA president. "On average, our parents and grandparents developed noise-related hearing loss between the ages of 40 and 50. Today, because of increased noise levels, many young people experience diminished hearing as early as their teens and 20s."

With warm weather comes exposure to outdoor and recreational sources of noise, such as lawnmowers, power tools, motorcycles, outdoor music concerts, or firework displays. Both the amount of noise and the length of time you are exposed to noise determine its ability to damage hearing. Measured in decibels (dB), sounds that are louder than 85 dB are potentially hazardous. Hearing loss often occurs gradually, becoming worse over time. For this reason, many people do not become aware of their hearing loss until it is too late to avoid permanent damage.

"By taking a few precautions, you can greatly reduce your chances of hearing loss and improve your overall health," says Ochsner. "Limit your exposure to noisy environments when possible, alternate a quiet activity with a noisy one, and use hearing protection devices, such as ear plugs, when operating loud machinery, such as lawn mowers or power tools."

Also, children's toys and household appliances, such as blenders, dishwashers, hairdryers and vacuum cleaners can all exceed 85 dB. Ochsner advises that consumers check the dB ratings of products before purchasing them.

In addition to damaging hearing, research continues to provide data on the effects of noise on health. It is now known that noise can cause stress-related health problems. Noise elevates blood pressure, causes fatigue, reduces sleep, increases frustration and anxiety levels, increases breathing rate, disturbs digestion, and causes difficulty in concentrating.

Individuals who are concerned about possible hearing loss are encouraged to have their hearing checked by a certified audiologist. To find a local audiologist or for free information on the warning signs and protection against hazardous noise and hearing loss, concerned consumers can call ASHA's Action Center at (800) 638-8255 or visit http://www.asha.orgwww.asha.org.

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