Sounds can damage your hearing when they are too loud, even for a brief time, or loud and long-lasting. Sometimes the damage is permanent. Raising awareness about noise-induced hearing loss from all sources is the focus of National Protect Your Hearing Month, which is observed each October by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and other organizations.
Noise exposure is common at many workplaces, but many home- and leisure-based activities can also harm your hearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40 million adults ages 20 to 69 have hearing loss from noise, but more than half of them report no on-the-job exposure to loud noise.
People at every stage of life—from young children to older adults—can be at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Common threats to hearing include sirens, lawn equipment, and listening to loud music, whether live or through headphones or earbuds. In fact, the World Report on Hearing, released in March 2021 by the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that more than 50 percent of people ages 12 to 35 use smartphones/personal audio devices at volumes that pose a risk to their hearing. Nearly 40% of those who frequently visit entertainment venues are at risk for hearing loss, according to WHO.
Hearing loss from noise can happen instantly—when a loud sound happens very close to your ears—or it can occur gradually. It can affect one or both ears. The louder the sound, the more damage it can cause to the sensitive structures of your inner ear, and the faster this damage can happen. If your hearing loss occurs gradually (from noise or other causes), you may not recognize it at first. You may have hearing loss if:
Words sound muffled or difficult to hear or comprehend.
You have trouble hearing high-pitched sounds.
You have difficulty hearing in noisy places and social settings, such as restaurants and family gatherings.
You have trouble understanding speech over the phone.
The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Follow these tips to protect your hearing:
Lower the volume.
Move away from the noise when possible.
Wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or protective earmuffs.
To identify how loud noise levels are in your environment, use a smartphone app. The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers a free Sound Level Meter app for iOS devices.
The NIDCD supports research on noise-induced hearing loss and other hearing disorders, and research on affordable, accessible hearing health care.