More than 30 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise. In New York City, nearly one in six adults report ringing in their ears or hearing loss.
About 20% of New Yorkers say they are frequently disturbed by noise at home (PDF). A 2012 Health Department study found that average levels of outdoor noise at many locations around the city exceed federal and international guidelines set to protect public health.
Noise-induced hearing problems can be prevented, although they cannot be treated or cured.
Noise is measured in two ways: loudness and frequency.
Noise loudness is measured in decibels (dBA). When decibel levels go up a little, loudness goes up a lot. Noise that is 90 decibels sounds twice as loud as noise that is 80 decibels.
Noise frequency, or pitch, is measured in Hertz (Hz), or cycles per second. Most sounds are between two and 16,000 Hz. Human speech is between 500 and 2000 Hz.
Loud or high-pitched noise is the most harmful. Continuous exposure to noise above 85 dBA can damage the inner ear and lead to hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Loud noise can cause short-term or permanent hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss can occur from routine exposure to sounds at 85 dBA for more than eight hours a day. For sounds at higher dBA, less exposure can still lead to hearing loss. For example, regular exposure to sounds at 100 dBA for more than 15 minutes at a time can cause hearing loss, while exposure to a very loud sound, such as an explosion, can cause immediate hearing loss.
People with hearing loss often become socially isolated due to difficulty communicating and participating in social gatherings. Hearing loss is strongly associated with depression and cognitive decline.
In young children, exposure to noise can cause problems with reading comprehension, concentration, memory and attention span. Studies show a link between noise and poor academic performance in schoolchildren.
Noise in the community, even at levels that are too low to cause hearing loss, can affect mental and physical health. Long-term exposure to this type of noise can lead to:
Noise in the Workplace
Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Workers in the manufacturing, transit, and construction industries are at high risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Some workers in music and sporting venues, and restaurants or bars, may also be exposed to hazardous noise levels.
Private sector employers are required to institute a hearing conservation program if workers’ noise exposure averages more than 85 dBA over an 8-hour period. These programs include:
There are several steps you can take to reduce your and your family's exposure to noise, such as:
Tenants and Building Owners
You can help create a quieter living space by:
You can protect the hearing of staff and customers in your restaurant or bar with these tips:
Business Owners and Contractors
You can take the following steps to prevent work-relatedreduce thet risk of noise-related injuries to your employees: