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a man wearing a construction hat putting a ear plug in

Exposure to chronic noise is a major culprit in hearing loss, so much so that sound is regulated in workplaces. The occupational noise standard created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says an employee can safely spend up to eight hours exposed to 85 dB, the sonic equivalent to being stuck in average traffic.

But for every three additional decibels, the length of safe exposure time is cut in half, according to NIOSH. Once decibel levels get over 85, there’s a risk of long-term hearing loss.

Statistics would suggest plenty of us spend time in environments over 85 dB. One in four people are projected to have some degree of hearing loss by 2050, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. Nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.

In 2014, the National Health Interview Survey found that one in five adults had difficulty following a conversation amid background noise, while about one in 10 had tinnitus, with chronic ringing in the ears.

While a little hearing loss might not seem like a big deal, the effects of a deficit are significant. Studies show that older adults with hearing loss suffer cognitive decline and shrinkage in brain tissue, while those with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to take a fall than those with normal hearing. ­Researchers suggest this may be because hearing loss reduces our awareness of our immediate environments, making a tumble more likely.

This was excerpted from “Quiet, Please” which was published in the September 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Karen Bannan

Karen Bannan is a freelance editor and writer who lives in New York. Follow her on Twitter @KarenBannan or her blog,

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  1. Any findings on long term effects of wearing headphones, ear buds etc. It can’t be healthy to be wearing these constantly.

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