- New findings from Apple's hearing study highlight the extent of excessive noise exposure.
- Certain groups of people are at higher risk of being exposed to excessive noise, which can damage hearing and increase health risks.
- Technologies and apps like the Apple Watch and Apple AirPods can help you monitor noise levels and reduce risks to hearing health.
One48 millionAmericans are at a certain leveldeafness, and studies continue to link it to physical and mental health problems.
But it's not just about listening to loud musicit damages hearing. Our everyday environment is an overlooked factor in hearing loss.
Thelatest findingsout ofApple Hearing Study(AHS) found that one in three Americans is regularly exposed to excessive noise, which is classified as noise over 70 decibels (dBA).
"Noise has long been ignored as a pollutant in this country and around the world," he saidRick Nigel, PhD, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and AHS Principal Investigator.
The number of people exposed to excessive noise is comparable to the number of people living in areas where air pollution is above legal limits, he told GesundLine. "This suggests that noise pollution is a widespread problem and should receive more attention."
Apple is conducting an ongoing study with the University of Michigan to track our daily exposure to sound — from headphones and other environmental sources — and how it affects our hearing over time.
People with Apple Watches can do thatdownloadthe research app that enables the collection of noise-related data through your device. The AHS team then evaluates this information to identify trends and key insights.
"The AHS is the first nationwide longitudinal study to assess personal exposure to noise from the environment (the world around you) and your headphones," said Neitzel.
"We hope to continue to raise awareness of noise in the United States through ongoing updates to our research and studies," he added, and "ultimately hope to bring about changes that reduce exposure and resulting health effects."
AHS released an update of the results in late April, which includes data from 130,000 Apple Watch users collected between November 2019 and December 2022.
The results revealed that certain communities, age groups and races are more exposed to environmental noise.
Noise levels by state
Looking at regional noise exposure, 44% of Puerto Rico residents experienced noise levels above 70 dBA—the highest percentage in the study.
Next came people in Connecticut and Mississippi, where 36% of residents in each state were exposed to excessive noise.
The lowest number of participants with excessive noise levels lived in Washington, D.C. (20%), followed by New Mexico and Colorado (21% each).
"Many things could contribute to the regional differences," Neitzel said. These include:
- Regulation (or lack of regulation) of noise and noise sources
- The historical and continuous placement of roads, industries, airports and railways
- Common jobs in one area
- Lifestyle differences (e.g., people living in warmer climates leave their windows open more often and are therefore more exposed to indoor traffic noise)
- The use of public or alternative means of transport
Hobbies and choice of leisure activities could also play a role, he addedAdam Kaufman, ENT doctor/neurologistUniversity of Maryland Medical System– like “guns, fireworks, motocross vehicles, concerts and festivals”.
Neitzel stated that "future analysis will attempt to identify the strongest contributors."
exposure across age groups
The AHS researchers found other differences between the age groups. Only 16% of people aged 65 and over experienced noise levels above 70 dBH.
Meanwhile, more than twice as many 35-44 year olds (34%) experienced excessive noise. The 18- to 24-year-olds followed closely behind.
This is not surprising given that younger age groups are more likely to seek out noisy venues such as restaurants, clubs and concerts.
High levels of noise exposure in earlier years remind you that "hearing loss can occur at any point in your life," he said.Gillian Price, chief audiologist atlistening to life.
"Hearing loss is more common in people over 65, so age is definitely a factor," he told GesundLine. However, "it's certainly not just reserved for this demographic."
The risk varies for people of color
The study found significant differences in the levels of noise experienced by people of color.
Black and Hispanic adults experienced the highest rates of excessive noise, at 37% and 34% of individuals, respectively.
In contrast, excessive noise was the least common among Asian participants (20%).
studies showthat Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to work in "louder" jobs: with Blacks or African Americans making up the largest proportion of the manufacturing and transportation workforce;
More Hispanics now work in construction and maintenance than other races.
It is also important to note that e.gFor various reasonsFringe groups are more likely to live near high industrial facilities such as power plants.
Causes of excessive noise pollution
A large number of everyday noises exceed the recommended limit values – including road traffic.
For example he saidDr. Hamid R. Djalilian, Director of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at the University of California Irvine
The people who moved "had a greater hearing loss than their relatives who stayed on the island [and] lacked motorized vehicles and many of the modern technologies that can create a lot of noise."
Djalilian told GesundLine that other common causes of excessive noise include:
- electric tools
- motorized lawn mowers
- loud whistling
- trucks and vans
There are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed hearing loss.
sensorineural hearing lossis the most common, Kaufman said. "It occurs when the delicate structures in the inner ear or the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain are damaged."
Several factors contribute to this form of hearing loss, "including aging, repetitive exposure to loud noises, significant barometric changes, certain medications, head trauma, genetic predisposition, and certain medical conditions such as Meniere's disease," he continued.
conductive hearing lossIt occurs when something — like excess earwax, a perforated eardrum, or fluid — affects the outer ear (between the outer ear and the eardrum) or the middle ear (behind the eardrum), Kaufman said.
Mixed hearing loss usually results from a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, although Kaufman noted that it can occur in others as wellchronic ear infections.
The effects of hearing loss extend far beyond the inability to hear the TV properly. ONERecent studyemphasized his connection withdementiarisk, for example.
Additionally, repeated exposure to loud environmental noise is associated with concerns such as:
"Importantly, current research shows that these [health] effects can occur at noise levels well below those that are harmful to hearing health," Neitzel said.
progression of hearing loss
We often assume that hearing loss or damage will happen over time - and that's possible, too, explained the board-certified audiologistRuth Buahnik, AuD.
However, he added: “It can also happen suddenly, due to auditory trauma or exposure to a very loud noise (e.g. an explosion).
Regardless of whether one is exposed to excessive noise exposure gradually or in discrete bursts, the effect on the ear is the same, he saidWinnie Wong, MSc, Audiology. clinical audiologist atamplifier.
"In either case, loud noises can damage the hair cells in the cochlea, causing the auditory nerve to transmit fewer impulses to the brain," he told GesundLine.
Damage to auditory cells may not be as obvious in younger people, Djalilian said. For example, hearing may seem a little muffled after going out to the club, but within a day or so normal hearing levels seem to have "flipped".
But as we age, after "increasing exposure to noise and the onset of age-related hearing loss, the damage done at a younger age becomes visible in the hearing test," he explained.
It is crucial to protect your ears as best you can before damage occurs, as prevention is usually much easier than cure.
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, Wong said — although "it's treatable and patients should speak to their GP or audiologist if they think they have it."
Conductive hearing loss is "often reversible," he added, while mixed hearing loss can be case-specific, but "partial hearing loss is often reversible."
Apps and technology can help you monitor noise levels around you and reduce exposure.
For example, the Apple Watch offers thatapply noise, which detects the decibel level of the noise around you. When they reach the point where your hearing may be affected, you will be alerted by a vibration.
If you don't have an Apple Watch, apps such asNIOSH-SchallpegelmesserAndsound metercan help you measure the noise level.
Meanwhile it isApple AirPods(Pro or Max) offer active noise cancellation. You can pick up external noises via a built-in microphone - and when they reach a certain level, the AirPods cancel them out.
Other steps include wearing earplugs or earplugs when working in a noisy environment or going to a concert.
Additionally, "If you live near a construction site or hospital where there are frequent ambulances and loud alarms, I recommend making your home as soundproof as possible," Price said.
Acoustic foam padding is an option. Alternatively, according to Price, "things like wall hangings, extra blankets and pillows, and thicker curtains are effective noise barriers."
If you're concerned about a hearing loss or impairment, it's never too early to get things checked out.
"Consulting an audiologist to review your options can be helpful in finding the best solution for your needs," Buahnik said.