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Prevent noise-induced hearing loss by lowering sound levels

Published November 24. 2009 05:00PM

Q. I'm worried about my hearing because I played in a rock band when I was a kid. How dangerous is the sound level on the bandstand?

Sound volume is measured in decibels (dB). You risk hearing loss when you are exposed to sounds at 85 decibels or more. The louder the sound and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk.

Here's the bad news: rock music is on many lists as an example of a dangerous sound. Here's one of those lists:

30 dB = library

50 dB = rain

60 dB = conversation (apolitical)

70 dB = vacuum cleaner

80 dB = busy street

90 dB = shop tools

100 dB = chain saw

110 dB = rock music among audience

120 dB = rock music on bandstand

130 dB = jackhammer

140 dB = air raid siren

150 dB = rock music crescendo

If I played electric guitar in the Sixties next to one of those gigundo amplifiers, I'd get to a doctor for an ear exam.

You don't have to be a rocker to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL); anyone at any age can be a victim. About 10 percent of Americans between ages 20 and 69 already may have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive noise.

You can sustain NIHL at work, play or sitting around the house. Music players turned up too high can damage your ears. Woodworking can be an unsafe hobby. Leaf-blowers reach hazardous sound levels.

Most people's hearing diminishes with age. About one in three Americans over 60 suffers from some loss of hearing, which can range from the inability to hear certain voices to deafness. Those who are healthy and not exposed to loud noise can maintain their hearing for many years.

The first symptom of NIHL is the inability to pick up high-pitched sounds, or not understanding conversation in a crowd. As hearing declines, you lose the lower-pitched sounds.

Prevention is the key to NIHL. Here is some advice to avoid damage to your ears:

• Avoid exposure to noise when possible.

• When you can't avoid noise, wear earplugs that are available in drugstores. Earplugs can stop 25 dB of sound. Cotton in your ears doesn't work.

• You can cut down noise in the home with rubber mats under appliances and carpets on floors. Drapes on windows help keep outside noise from coming into your home.

• Turn down the volume on TVs, radios, music sound systems and portable MP3 players. Be especially careful to keep the volume down if you wear ear buds.

• Don't sit near speakers at concerts, dances or weddings.

• Look for noise ratings when buying any product that creates sound such a hair dryer. Choose quieter models.

If you have a question, please write to

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the author do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TIMES NEWS. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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