Tips to Preserve Hearing

By Lisa Tseng, MD

Did you know that hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition among older Americans? Hearing loss affects 48 million or 1 in 6 Americans. And those numbers are growing, because people are starting to lose their hearing at earlier ages. In fact, 1 in 5 teens already suffer from some hearing loss.


Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss. It is often permanent, but preventable! The National Institute of Health reports that 10 million Americans have already suffered hearing damage from loud sounds. In addition, another 30 million are exposed to dangerous levels of noise each day.

We live in a very noisy world. Here are some facts regarding the loudness of sounds, and the amount of time most people can be around it before hearing loss occurs:


What Noise Level Damage to Hearing Begins
Blender 90 dB After 2 hours
Stereo / Headphones 100 dB After 15 minutes
Shotgun 160 dB Immediately
Conversations 60 dB Safe every day
Whisper 30 dB Safe every day

Here are some ideas to reduce ear damage from noise exposure:

  • If it's OSHA, it's OK. If you work in an environment where your hearing is at risk, consult your employer to make sure the ear protection provided to you is OSHA-regulated.
  • Be aware of noises that are ‘too loud’, ‘too close’ or ‘last too long’.
  • Use hearing protection when exposed to dangerous levels of sound. This includes at work, or at home such as when using power tools or listening to music.
  • Turn down the volume on your electronic devices. Good rule of thumb: “60/60”. Listen at 60% volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time.
  • Watch for signs of hearing loss such as ringing in the ears, trouble understanding speech, and a blocked feeling in the ears. You may notice more problem hearing and understanding in noise.
  • Shop for sound deals. Compare the decibel output of appliances such as microwaves or dryers. The lower the decibels (the quieter), the better.
  • Antioxidants. Hard to say, easy to swallow. Antioxidants (e.g., vitamins A, C, & E, N-acetylcysteine) can help protect ear cells against free radicals that are generated by loud noise. Yet another reason for eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables.
If you have trouble hearing, ask your doctor for a hearing test or call toll-free at 1-855-523-9355 to find a provider near you. The good news is over 90% of people with hearing loss can benefit tremendously from the use of hearing aids. Treating hearing loss early helps the brain maintain speech understanding, resulting in a better outcome.

Reference: Lichenstein et al, Headphone use and pedestrian injury and death in the United States: 2004–2011, Injury Prevention Journal, January 2012.