Girl in subway station wearing earbuds

More than eight in every 10 New Yorkers are exposed to enough noise to damage their hearing, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan. Richard Neitzel, Ph.D., an environmental health sciencist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues say that city dwellers may be particularly at risk for noise-induced hearing loss because they are exposed to high levels of noise throughout the day. Noisy activities in the city include attending sporting events, concerts, and even riding the subway. The researchers report that noise levels in New York’s subway system can exceed 100 A-weighted decibels (dBA). Science tells us that exposure to sounds above 85 dBA can lead to permanent hearing loss, and that sounds at or above 100 dBA can damage your hearing in as little as 14 minutes.

But the biggest contributor to noise-induced hearing loss could be an easily avoidable one—listening to music at too high a volume on personal music players. Ear buds concentrate sound in the ear canal at levels that can be loud enough to potentially damage the sensory cells deep in the ear that allow us to hear.

Luckily, there are some simple ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in any environment:

  • Avoid the noise by walking away from dangerously loud environments.
  • Turn down the volume. If the person standing next to you can hear the music coming through your ear buds or head phones, you should turn it down.
  • Wear hearing protectors, such as ear plugs. Different types of hearing protectors are available for all activities (for example, high-fidelity ear plugs for musicians).

Read more about hearing loss in cities.

Supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, the study appeared in the January 2012 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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