Dr. Yulia Carroll, left, senior medical officer, and Mr. John Eichwald, audiologist, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta, GA.
Dr. Yulia Carroll, left, senior medical officer, and Mr. John Eichwald, audiologist, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta, GA.

For nearly 50 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has researched noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace, providing guidelines to help reduce risk. In 2015, CDC received inquiries from both the public and medical community about noise-induced hearing loss in non-workplace settings.

In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released “Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability.” This report included a request that government agencies strengthen publicly available, evidence-based information on hearing loss and hearing health care. In response, CDC not only started research efforts but also raised awareness about the fact that excessive exposure to loud sounds can cause permanent hearing damage, and that taking simple steps can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

In 2014, CDC conducted hearing tests on 3,583 people (age 20–69 years) as part of its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2012. The data collected provided the following insight:

  • Approximately 15% of American adults, aged 18 and older, reported some degree of trouble with hearing—about as much as the prevalence reported for both diabetes and cancer combined (Vital Health Stat 10. 2014;260:1 http://bit.ly/2lZlMX0).
  • Nearly 24% of adults have measurable hearing damage in one or both ears.
  • Nearly 50% of adults with this damage were not exposed to noise at work (MMWR. 2017; 66[5]:139 http://bit.ly/2lZxpNr).
  • Almost 21 million American adults have hearing damage that occurred in non-workplace settings, during everyday activities at home and in the community.
  • About one in five young adults (in their 20’s) already exhibited this type of hearing damage.
  • About one in four adults with hearing damage is unaware of it; they reported that their hearing was excellent or good.

Many people may not recognize that loud noise from common activities, such as mowing the lawn or attending concerts and sporting events, can be as damaging as loud noises in the workplace. Therefore, it is important to raise public awareness that the louder the noise and the longer the exposure, the more likely hearing damage will occur. One very effective tool is preventive messaging on taking simple steps:

  • Avoid noisy environments;
  • Use earplugs while in noisy environments;
  • Keep the volume down (on televisions, car stereos, personal listening devices, etc.).

Health care providers can help prevent or slow noise-induced hearing loss. CDC encourages health care providers to regularly ask their patients about hearing and loud noise exposure, to explain how loud noise can permanently damage hearing, to teach patients how to protect their hearing, and to refer patients to hearing specialists as needed (Vital Signs, 2017 http://bit.ly/2lZtTD3).

There are no federal standards or regulations on safe non-occupational noise exposures. Because noise-induced hearing damage gets worse over time, early education and noise prevention at younger ages may prevent hearing damage.

To learn more about how loud noise can cause hearing loss, visit https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/default.html

This blog is an excerpt from an article titled “CDC Research on Non-Occupational Hearing Loss” that appeared in the April 2017 Issue of the “Hearing Journal

These opinions are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the official position of CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.

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