To celebrate Better Hearing and Speech Month, the House Ear Institute (HEI) is educating the public on noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) with the top five ways to protect their hearing.

An estimated 32.5 million people in the United States have a hearing loss. That estimate is up by 2.5 million from just a few years ago. Exposure to excessive noise causes approximately 30 percent of all hearing loss yet this type of hearing loss is preventable.

"Exposure to noise damages the microscopic hair cells found in the inner ear, which play a critical role in our ability to hear," said Dr. Jose Fayad, House Ear Clinic associate. "The damage can be from a brief but intense noise, but is most often caused by regular exposure to excessive sound over the course of several years."

How loud is too loud? Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 decibels (dB) may cause permanent hearing loss. Normal conversation is measured at a moderate noise level of 50-70 dB. A motorcycle or lawn mower is 85-90 dB. The extreme noise of a typical rock concert is measured at 110 to120 dB and an ambulance siren or jet engine at take-off is 119-140 dB. Regular exposure even wearing headphones or earbuds can be dangerous too if the volume is too loud.

Noise-induced hearing loss is usually painless, progressive and always permanent but can also be 100 percent preventable. Here are the top five ways you to help prevent it:

1. Monitor your exposure time to sounds over 85 dB and take periodic 15-minute "quiet" breaks. Although the maximum time to safely be exposed to 85 dB is 8 hours, the maximum time to safely be exposed to 100 dB is only 15 minutes. See pie-chart for more information.

2. Avoid hazardous sound environments. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you are in a potentially hazardous environment for your hearing. This includes loud music performances, operating power tools and driving with the windows down at high speeds.

3. Whenever you can't get away from an extreme sound environment, wear hearing protection, such as foam, silicone or pre-molded earplugs, earmuffs or custom earplugs. Look for products with noise-reduction ratings (NRR) of at least 9dB. Most products provide a NRR of 22dB or greater. To hear music and conversation clearly, look for high fidelity hearing protection. They will reduce all sound frequencies equally, and can often make listening to music more enjoyable than without any protection. Shooter's plugs combined with earmuffs should be used for hunting and target practice. All can be found over the counter at your local drugstore or sporting goods shop.

4. Move away from on-stage monitors or amplifiers.

Position yourself so you are not directly in front of the speaker while performing or listening. Musicians should avoid practicing at performance levels when possible.

5. If you suspect hearing loss or notice sudden changes in your hearing or have ear pain, see an otolaryngologist (ENT) or otologist. Also, have your hearing tested by a licensed audiologist. Common hearing tests include the pure tone threshold test, the otoacoustic emissions ("OAE") test, speech audiometry and the Hearing in Noise Test ("HINT"), which was developed by HEI scientists to assess how well you can hear speech in real world situations, where background noise is present.

For consumers who want to learn more, in May the House Ear Institute is launching a virtual hearing conservation workshop. The unique program will be available for worldwide use at

For more information, visit House Ear Institute's Sound Partners® program at or its new site for teens and young adults at, where young visitors can request a free pair of earplugs.

About the House Ear Institute

The House Ear Institute (HEI) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to advancing hearing science through research and education to improve quality of life. HEI scientists investigate the cellular and molecular causes of hearing loss and related auditory disorders as well as neurological processes pertaining to the human auditory system and the brain. Our researchers also explore technology advancements to improve auditory implants, hearing aids, diagnostic techniques and rehabilitation tools. The Institute shares its knowledge with the scientific and medical communities as well as the general public through its education and outreach programs.

House Ear Institute
2100 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90057
United States