by Kathy Kucsan, Ph.D.
I was recently shocked to come across this statistic: “It is estimated that 1.1 billion young people worldwide (between the ages of 12-35) are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in recreational settings.”¹ One billion! That’s 1/7th of the global population. What can be done about this, especially in a setting where music is what we do? Taking care of our hearing is something most of us don’t really think about. But a billion young people (not to mention the rest of us) at risk of hearing loss is something that demands our attention.
We measure the intensity of sound using decibel levels (dB) from level 0 to about 140 (higher numbers are possible for huge sounds like artillery fire). The decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning that sound is measured by powers of ten. For every 10dB, the sound intensity (roughly) doubles. Near silence is measured at 0dB, so any sound that is 10dB is actually 10 times louder. 20 dB means 100 times louder. If you were exposed to sound at 140 dB, the damage to your hearing will be immediate.
As a real-life example, normal conversation is measured at about 60dB. Your average rock concert weighs in at about 120dB. Any prolonged sound over 85dB can cause damage to our ears/hearing. Going to a concert at Red Rocks isn’t likely to affect your hearing in the long run. But listening to your tunes through earbuds at high volume can. Prolonged, daily exposure to sound at 85 dB and above will eventually cause damage and potentially irreversible hearing loss.
So – take a few precautions and protect your precious hearing. Wear headphones instead of earbuds. Wear earplugs next time you go to a rock concert. Watch the volume on all your devices (see if your phone has a smart volume option). Ask about noise levels in restaurants – my iPhone dB meter clocked a consistent 80-90 dB at a really nice local restaurant. Great food, but wow! My dining companion who suggested that I might be a nerd was actually amazed to see how loud our surroundings were.
For more information and suggestions about how to support hearing health, visit hearinghealthfoundation.org
¹ World Health Organization https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss