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Does city living increase risks of hearing loss? One of the draws of city life is its immortality – constant lights, busy streets and restaurants and clubs open late into the night. Yet the quality of life in the city may not be as vigorous as the quantity. Incessant street noise and traffic can have a negative impact on city dwellers’ hearing, and if not addressed, the damage can be permanent.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Facts and Figures

Levels of sound are measured in decibels (dB). For example, a ticking watch is 20 dB, a washing machine is 70 dB, and a screaming child reaches 110 dB. In 1992, the Federal Interagency Committee on Noise published a report that found a busy urban street to be at 90 dB, the same level as a Boeing 737 one mile before landing. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers shouldn’t be exposed to sounds at or over 85 dB for longer than an eight-hour period.

Yet the average city traffic makes 85 dB of noise. Just being around city traffic too long and too close can put you at risk for what researches have identified as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Hearing happens via organs of the ear turning sound waves into electrical signals. The auditory nerve carries those electrical signals to the brain. Dangerously loud noises can impede this process by damaging the ear’s hair cells, essential to converting sound waves into electrical signals.

Continuous exposure to loud noise, like traffic, is one cause of NIHL. Another is one-time intense noise exposure, like this entry on urban dictionary: P.C.S. – Post Concert Syndrome, “referring to the few days of hearing loss you have after a loud rock concert.”

Selling Hearing Loss

A New York Times survey of 37 restaurants, bars, stores and gyms in New York City found that many of them sported decibel levels above the 85 NIOSH threshold. Loud music was seen as a marketing tool to attract younger clientele. A study even showed that loud music makes people consume more food in shorter amounts of time, a boon for restaurants and bars.

Prevent Hearing Loss and Protect Your Hearing in Style

Loud noises definitely excite the senses, enough to dull them in the long-term. If you live in a city, it’s especially important to reduce your exposure to loud sounds and even use earplugs when necessary. For a cooler way to track noise, you can download Decibel 10th, a free app that measures decibel levels wherever you are.

Are you a city dweller concerned with hearing loss? Audicus teamed up with LACE to provide an auditory training program. Think you might need a hearing aid? Try Ear Machine, a free iPhone/iPad app developed by a team of leading PhD hearing scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health that enhances your hearing.

Audicus offers affordable hearing aids – so you can keep living where you love!

by Estie Neff