Public Health and Scientific Information
Statistics about the Public Health Burden of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect people of all ages.
- According to the World Health Organization, nearly 50% of persons aged 12-35 years could be exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices. Around 40% of persons in that age range could be exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.
- May 2018 National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) webinar: Chronic health effects and injury associated with environmental noise pollution. pdf icon[PDF – 9 MB]
- During 2001–2008, an estimated 30 million Americans older than 12 years had hearing loss in both ears. An estimated 48 million had hearing loss in at least one ear.1
- The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that in 2014, an estimated 21.0% of adults aged ≥18 years had difficulty following a conversation amid background noise, 11.2% had ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and 5.9% had sensitivity to everyday sounds.2
- A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)-based study from 2005–2008 estimated that 2.5 million youths aged 12–19 years have ringing in the ears (tinnitus).3
- About 10 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.4
- The cumulative effects of hearing damage are more noticeable among older adults. As described in a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, nearly half of people older than 60 years have hearing loss. As more people live longer, these numbers are expected to grow, from 46 million in 2014 to 82 million in 2040.5
- Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States and is twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer.6
- The economic cost to society of age-related hearing loss is estimated to be $297,000 over the lifetime of every affected person.7
- Those who have hearing loss are more likely to have low employment rates, lower worker productivity, and high healthcare costs. Hearing-impaired adults are more likely to have low income and be unemployed or underemployed than adults with normal hearing.8
- Nationally, the total cost of first-year hearing loss treatment is projected to multiply five-fold between 2002 and 2030, from $8.2 billion to $51.4 billion.9
Recommendations and Guidelines
EPA: Exposure Limits
In 1974, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report identified 70 decibels (dB) over 24 hours (75 dB over 8 hours) as the average exposure limit to environmental noise. They identified levels of 55 dB outdoors and 45 dB indoors as the highest average levels of noise that will permit spoken conversation, sleeping, working, and recreation. These are average levels, not peak levels. Occasional higher noise levels should not cause noise-induced hearing loss if the 24 hours include a sufficient amount of quiet time for hearing recovery between high noise level exposures.
These limits are not a standard or regulation. They do give state and local governments the basic information they can and do use in setting their own standards. For full information on the EPA 1974 document, visit NPC Online Library: Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safetyexternal icon.
OSHA Workplace Requirements
For an 8-hour work day the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers use engineering controls when exposures exceed 90 dBA and administrative controls, hearing protection, and annual hearing monitoring when exposures exceed 85 dBA.
NIOSH Workplace Recommendations
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that the highest permissible level of noise exposure in the workplace is an average of 85 dB over an 8 hour day.
Occupational limits are set to protect workers from developing an inability to hear and understand speech if exposed over a 40-year period (in other words, “material hearing impairment”). Limits are not set to protect all workers, nor sensitive populations, such as children and people with certain diseases. When setting this limit, NIOSH acknowledged that about 8% of workers could still develop a material hearing impairment. For this reason, NIOSH recommends that noise levels be reduced or hearing protection used whenever a noise level exceeds 85 dB for any length of time.
For more information on understanding noise exposure limits, visit NIOSH’s Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise web page.
WHO: Exposure Limits
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 dB over a 24-hour period, and 85 dB over a 1-hour period to avoid hearing impairment. For more information on WHO noise publications, visit WHO’s list of noise-related publicationsexternal icon.
Local ordinances usually relate to noise annoyance rather than to hearing-hazard risks. In certain situations, such as when recreational exposures are loud because of amplified music or at gaming arcades, local ordinances may require the use of hearing protection devices. They might also require warning signs saying that hearing protection is required to enter. For example, in 2014, the Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance that bars and clubs offer free earplugs to customers.
Lin FR, Niparko JK, Ferrucci L. Hearing loss prevalence in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(20):1851–3.
Zelaya CE, Lucas JW, Hoffman HJ, MMWR QuickStats: Percentage of adults with selected hearing problems, by type of problem and age group—National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2014. MMWR. 2015;64(37):1058. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6437a8.htm.
Mahboubi H, Oliaei S, Kiumehr S, Dwabe S, Djalilian HR. The prevalence and characteristics of tinnitus in the youth population of the United States. Laryngoscope. 2013;123(8):2001–8.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Available from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing#7external icon. [Based on calculations performed by NIDCD Epidemiology and Statistics Program staff: (1) tinnitus prevalence was obtained from the 2008 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS); (2) the estimated number of American adults reporting tinnitus was calculated by multiplying the prevalence of tinnitus by the 2013 U.S. Census population estimate for the number of adults (18+ years of age).]
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Aging America & hearing loss: imperative of improved hearing technology. Washington, DC: Executive office of the President of the United States, 2015. Available from http://hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/PCAST_Hearing_Tech_LetterReport_FINAL.pdfpdf iconexternal icon.
Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for US adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. Vital Health Stat 10. 2014;260:1-161.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Hearing health care for adults: Priorities for improving access and affordability. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2016. (doi:10.17226/23446)
Themann CL, Suter AH, Stephenson MR. National research agenda for the prevention of occupational hearing loss—part 1. Semin Hear 2013;34:145–207.
Stucky SR, Wolf KE, Kuo T. The economic effect of age-related hearing loss: National, state, and local estimates, 2002 and 2030. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010;58:618-9.