In a recent policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights the detrimental effects of noise exposure on individuals of all ages. The statement discusses various types of noise trauma and its impact on not only hearing but also overall well-being and mental health.
When considering noise exposure, factors such as loudness (measured in decibels), frequency, and duration are taken into account. Traditionally, occupations like factory work, airport tarmacs, and military firearm zones have been recognized as high-risk noise exposure environments. While these industries now provide noise protection devices, there is still a risk of exposure and subsequent damage. Recreational exposure to loud music, such as attending concerts or playing musical instruments, is also known to be a risk factor for noise-induced damage. Additionally, proximity to fireworks, especially when handled by untrained individuals, can cause permanent damage.
Higher decibel levels and longer durations of exposure pose the greatest risk, leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). In many cases, only part of the hearing apparatus is damaged, which may go unnoticed for years until a critical degree of hearing loss occurs. Unlike hearing loss caused by infections or earwax, nerve damage from long-term noise exposure cannot be repaired. While hearing aids can amplify sound, they cannot restore the hearing levels themselves.
With the increasing use of headphones and personal listening devices, there has been a significant rise in permanent hearing damage among adolescents. Apps are now available that allow individuals to self-monitor their daily noise exposure based on loudness and duration. Noise-cancelling headphones have also helped mitigate this issue by reducing the need to increase the volume to block out background noise.
For premature and critically ill newborns in neonatal intensive care units, exposure to continuous noise from various sources can lead to ear damage, disrupted sleep cycles, increased blood pressure levels, and neurological development issues.
Chronic noise exposure can also result in increased stress levels, sleep disturbances, poor learning, and inattention in both children and adults. Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition in adults and is associated with cognitive decline and social isolation. Addressing hearing loss in adults through the use of hearing aids and assistive listening devices has been linked to a reduction in neurocognitive issues in the elderly.
It is important for public awareness of the impact of noise exposure on health to increase, leading to more mitigation measures for all age groups. Primary care physicians, especially those treating children and teens, should incorporate noise exposure risks into well-care visits. Additionally, federal action is needed to protect the public from unnecessary noise trauma.