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Noise and Hearing Health

child covering ears More than 30 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noise. In New York City, more than 16% of adults reported ringing in their ears or hearing loss. Although noise-induced hearing problems cannot be treated or cured, they can be prevented.

How is noise measured?
  • Noise is measured in two ways: loudness and frequency.
  • Noise loudness is measured in decibels (dBA). When decibels 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.
    • Constant exposure to noise above 85dBA, over time, will lead to hearing problems.

How can noise affect my health?

Loud noise can cause short-term or permanent hearing loss. Hearing problems from noise and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, are often due to ongoing exposure to loud sounds. Permanent hearing loss can occur from routine exposure to sounds at 85dBA for more than eight hours a day. For sounds at higher dBA, any amount of exposure can lead to hearing loss. For example, regular exposure to sounds at 100dBA for more than 15 minutes can cause hearing loss over time and exposure to a very loud sound, such as an explosion, can cause immediate hearing loss.

Hearing loss can make it difficult to:

  • talk with friends, family or coworkers
  • talk on the phone
  • listen to music or watch a movie or TV

Noise can also lead to:

  • fast pulse rate or increased blood pressure
  • abnormal secretion of hormones
  • muscle tension
  • ulcers
  • sleep loss
  • fatigue
  • stress

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 Workplace

Loud noise in the workplace can cause hearing loss. For more information about preventing noise, signs of hearing loss and what organizations can do to protect employees’ hearing health, see Noise in the Workplace.

Noise in the Community

Most noise in your community is not loud enough to cause hearing loss, but long-term exposure can cause health problems. Noise can:

  • be frustrating
  • disrupt sleep
  • interfere with conversations
  • be stressful

For more information, see Noise in the Community.

Headphones and Hearing Health