Think that hearing damage is usually workplace-related? Actually, activities away from work can damage hearing just as much a noisy job. More than half of all adults with hearing damage do not have noisy jobs.

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Almost twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer, with about 40 million adults aged 20–69 years suffering from noise-induced hearing loss.

Hearing loss can initially be difficult to detect; about 1 in 4 adults who report “excellent to good” hearing already have hearing damage.

With May designated as “Better Hearing and Speech Month,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using it as an opportunity to raise awareness about what you need to do to protect your hearing.

Why it matters

There is no treatment for hearing loss. Damaged inner ear cells do not grow back. Protect your hearing, and if you already have hearing loss, take steps to keep it from getting worse.

The average person is born with about 16,000 hair cells within their inner ear. These cells allow your brain to detect sounds. By the time changes in your hearing can be measured by a hearing test, up to 30% to 50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed.

The culprits

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine is about 95 dB. Noise above 85 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm.

When it comes to hearing loss, we can all think of the usual suspects: listening to fireworks, attending sporting events, and loud concerts.

However, you may be surprised at what you don’t know. For example, everyday activities such as using power tools, mowing the lawn, or attending a fitness class with loud music can damage hearing.

Repeated exposure to loud noise over the years can damage your hearing—long after exposure has stopped.

How to judge noise levels

Is the noise too loud? If you need to shout to make yourself heard, yes.

After a very loud event, such as a concert or football game, normal hearing usually returns within a few hours to a few days—however, repeated exposure to loud noises will eventually damage the inner ear permanently.

Signs that you may have hearing loss include difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds (e.g., doorbell, telephone, alarm clock) and difficulty understanding conversations in a noisy place.

What to do

Ways to protect your hearing include turning the volume down, of course, and also taking periodic breaks from the noise and using hearing protection.

Get more facts at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health’s hearing loss website: