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One of those professionals is David Coffin, audiology clinic coordinator at Indiana’s Ball State University. According to the Better Hearing Institute, 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day, and 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise. However, there is good news as well: NIHL is easily identifiable and completely preventable.
According to Coffin, such sounds are typically within the range of 90–140 decibels, but any noise above 80 decibels can cause long-term hearing damage. Warning signs that exposure to hazardous noise has occurred or is occurring include: the inability to hear someone a few feet away, ear pain after leaving a noisy area, ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in the ears immediately after exposure to noise, or hearing people talking but being unable to understand them.
Loud explosions that peak for a few milliseconds at levels greater than 130–140 decibels may cause hearing loss. The commercial popularity of portable media players with earphones, such as the iPod and similar devices, and their long-term use by consumers increase the risk of NIHL in those users.
Signs of hearing loss from unsafe sound exposure include the inability to comprehend somebody talking from two feet away, hearing muffled speech, experiencing pain or ringing in the ears following exposure, and needing others to speak louder in conversation. People often fail to notice the impacts of unsafe exposure to noise because it causes few symptoms. When the hearing system is exposed to noise at a risky or hazardous level, mechanical and metabolic changes can occur. In these studies, excessive noise stimulated cells in the inner ear, resulting in chemical processes that can exceed the cells’ tolerance.
The sensory cells in the cochlea may recover from their damage (as you have possibly experienced after a loud concert or work with a loud machine). Understand what noises put them at risk — noises above 85 decibels: commonly portable media players, lawn mowers, motorcycles, chainsaws, jet engines, etc. If possible, decrease noise at the source – for example, keep the volume low on portable media players, purchase motorized equipment with an effective muffler, etc. Early identification is important in order to recognize the presence of NIHL and take steps to prevent further hearing loss. By having someone else voice their view on what you may be missing, we can help pinpoint where we can help the most. Due to each patient’s individual needs, we need to take time to truly understand their situation before making any recommendations. According to many leading audiology professionals, casually ignoring the sounds around us can lead to serious hearing problems, including noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).


It occurs at home, in the yard, at the office, at the factory, on the farm, and in the military. Today, audiologists can assist with the prevention, diagnosis, and rehabilitation of hearing loss. Raising your voice over a noise in order to be heard by someone an arm’s length away is a good indication that the noise could be within risky range.
More often, however, hearing loss is caused by repeated exposure to noise above 85 decibels over long periods. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 15% of Americans below the age of 19 suffer from some measure of hearing loss. Scientific research, based on studies of industrial workers as well as lab studies of humans and animals, has investigated the effects of noise on hearing. This damages cell function and structure and results in sensorineural hearing loss (as opposed to a conductive hearing loss, where the outer or middle ear have been affected) and tinnitus (ringing of the ears).
Usually, recovery from temporary threshold shift (or TTS) occurs quickly, largely disappearing in 16 to 48 hours after exposure to loud noise. Individuals vary in their susceptibility to hearing loss, and hearing typically declines with age, but a healthy person who is not exposed to hazardous noises can enjoy normal hearing into his senior years. A general rule of measurement is that if one has to shout to be heard an arm’s length away, assume the noise is above a hazardous threshold. These are known as hearing protective devices (HPDs) and are required by law to be labeled with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) based on performance obtained under ideal laboratory conditions. Those regularly exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace or elsewhere should have an annual hearing test.
Peter Marincovich earned his graduate degree in communicative disorders from Louisiana State University and his Ph.D.
American National Standard: Determination of occupational noise exposure and estimation of noise-induced hearing impairment. But today, because of technology, virtually everyone is affected and at younger and younger ages. Knowing which noises can cause damage, such as jet engines, lawn mowers, motorcycles, chainsaws, powerboats, and personal media players is the best arsenal against NIHL. The risk of noise-induced hearing loss depends on both the intensity and duration of the exposure.
And according to Sight & Hearing Association, the incidents of teenage hearing loss has increased 400% over a 10-year period, as found in a recent study of eighth graders.


The first sign of NIHL is not being able to hear high-pitched sounds, such birds singing, or not understanding speech when in a crowd or an area with a lot of background noise.
However, if the hearing sensitivity does not recover within a few days, an irreversible and permanent threshold shift has taken place.
HPDs are powerful tools for preventing NIHL if worn correctly and throughout the duration of the hazardous noise.
If hearing loss is developing, it might indicate under-protection and could suggest preventive measures, such as better HPDs or turning down the volume on the iPod. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication 98-126.
If damage continues, hearing declines further, and lower-pitched sounds become hard to understand.
Many people naturally assume that if the symptoms abate, their ears have recovered to normal.
For example, exposure to 85 decibels (often produced by gas-engine lawn mowers) for 8 hours can be as equally damaging as exposure to 110 decibels (often produced by a chainsaw) for only a few minutes.
However, even in the absence of more symptoms, some cells in the inner ear could have been destroyed by the noise. For every 5 decibel increase in volume, the maximum exposure time is reduced by 50 percent. Therefore, according to Sight and Sound Associates, the maximum daily exposure time at 95 decibels is four hours; at 120 decibels, seven minutes, 30 seconds. But if the noise exposure is repeated and more cells are destroyed, a lasting hearing loss will develop.
He holds specialized credentials in teaching the handicapped and conducts courses at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Marincovich is owner of Audiology Associates with offices in Marin, Santa Rosa, and Mendocino.



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