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The Impact of Noise in Everyday Places on Your Hearing

It used to be that factory workers and military personnel were the ones that suffered hearing loss. But now it seems that all of us are challenged by an increasingly noisy world. From the movie theatre, bar, restaurant, ballpark, race track, air show, and amphitheater, our ears are bombarded by sound. And noise is not just annoying. Its long term effects can cause permanent hearing loss, especially in the higher frequencies. While its non- auditory effects include anxiety, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and insomnia.

The largest potential source of noise exposure outside of industry and the military is music exposure. Today the number one contributor of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is “portable music” because MP-3 players and cell phones can be easily turned up to overcome the noise of a busy city street. In several well controlled studies beginning in the 1970s, output may be in excess of 130 dB SPL depending on the ear phone. While the frequency and duration of exposure is critical, exposure at that intensity can cause significant hearing loss in a few minutes in susceptible individuals.

But what about the movie theater? Most of these venues have invested heavily in a surround system and want to show it off. Movie trailers are typically louder than the movie, some as high as 100 dB. In addition, sensitivity to noise increases as we age and young children are particularly vulnerable.

Some restaurants should be required to post a noise warning. These eateries are designed from floor to ceiling to be loud. In fact, the reverberant acoustics seem to be part of their marketing plan. For early arriving guests who often tend to be older, the high decibel level may discourage lingering and allow them to turn the tables for waiting guests. Those later arriving diners tend to be younger who may like it. More noise means the place is active and fun. When it’s noisy people tend to eat and drink more and talk less. According to a Denver Post article, at Jax Fish House in LoDo, the decibel level is 94. At another popular downtown eatery, the Vesta Dipping Grill, the dB level is 91. That level is purposeful, at least on Friday and Saturday nights when a younger crowd gathers.

And in Denver, there are situations where the violation of a noise ordinance can be considered a crime. Most recently, there has been a dispute between neighbors of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre (owned by the City of Denver) and producers of Electronic Dance Music, which typically features a DJ playing and mixing club music at a high volume. A similar situation arose during this summer’s Chive Fest in City Park where neighbor complaints regarding performers’ noise levels have the Denver City Council looking into modifications of its ordinance.

What to do? The obvious solution is avoidance of those places that are annoying and potentially damaging to hearing. If that is not an option, always carry a pair of OTC ear plugs available in any drug or hard ware store for “noise emergencies.”

If you questions or comments about any of the above, contact any of competent and caring providers at the Hearing Rehab Center.

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