corporationA recent study claims that more than eight in 10 New Yorkers are exposed to enough noise to damage their hearing.

Richard Neitzel, Ph.D., an environmental health sciences researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues say that city dwellers may be particularly at risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) 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 decibels.

Science tells us that regular exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss.

There have been reports that New York City is planning a campaign to increase public awareness about preventing hearing loss from excess noise exposure.

But the biggest contributor to NIHL 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.

Here are some simple ways to prevent NIHL in any environment:

  • Wear hearing protectors, such as ear plugs. Different types of hearing protectors are available depending on the activity (for example, high fidelity ear plugs for musicians).
  • Avoid the noise by walking away from dangerously loud environments. (If you're curious, here's a guide explaining how loud is too loud.)
  • 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.


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.