When the delicate inner ear hair cells are exposed to loud noise for too long a period, they break down. Over time, this can result in a permanent and irreversible hearing loss. A ticking time bomb. The louder a sound is, the less time we can listen to it safely.

The maximum “safe” decibel noise level of 85 decibels (dB) - such as the sound of a vacuum cleaner - is tolerable without hearing protection for eight hours. But for every three-decibel increase, the safe exposure time is cut in half! The 88dB forklift is safe for four hours and a lawn mower, at 91dB, for two hours. A typical school dance or snowmobile is 100dB, and poses a danger after only 15 minutes. Most people today own an MP3 player which, at a maximum output of 106dB, is unsafe after four minutes and popular concerts, at 115 decibels, are safe for less than one minute!

"A recent study by the American Medical Association revealed that a staggering one in five teens now have some degree of hearing loss, a 30 percent increase over the preceding decade."

Yet NIHL is also preventable; we can protect our hearing simply by reducing our exposure to loud noise and by wearing hearing protection in noisy situations.

The knowledge gap

Very few of the general public understand the connection between noise exposure and hearing loss - similar to ignorance about the link between smoking and cancer 30 or 40 years ago. Children and young people are especially vulnerable - they are inundated with noise through their entertainment choices such as digital audio players, smartphones, gaming consoles, car stereos, concerts, dance clubs, etc. all of which can contribute to permanent noise damage.

A recent study by the American Medical Association revealed that a staggering one in five teens now have some degree of hearing loss, a 30 percent increase over the preceding decade. Given that ear infections in children have dropped by 30 percent over the same decade, exposure to noise seems to be a significant factor to this extraordinary and unprecedented incidence of hearing loss in teenagers and young adults.

The risk of exposure

Noise damage can also cause tinnitus, a perception of sound in the head or ears that has no external sound source. More than 360,000 Canadians experience the ringing, buzzing and clicking of tinnitus, which can occur on an occasional, intermittent or continuous basis.

For many, the condition has a significant impact on quality of life; for some, tinnitus is incapacitating. As NIHL is largely preventable, the solution lies with education. We need to educate Canadians parents and the general public of the dangers of excessive noise exposure and how to prevent permanent damage. Much like the anti-smoking campaigns of the last 30 years, successful education campaigns will inevitably require a partnership between hearing health non-profit organizations and governments, both federal and provincial.

Protecting Canada’s ears

For its part, in 2006 the Hearing Foundation of Canada launched its Sound Sense program, teaching children in elementary schools how to avoid noise induced hearing loss and “save their hearing for the music”. Last year alone, this award-winning program reached over 14,000 children, as well as their families, in almost 400 schools across the country.

But there is a long way to go before we achieve the essential government and non-profit partnership that will allow us to reach every child and every parent with the message that hearing is a precious gift that must be safeguarded for life. In this report, you will find that message and education. Understanding our daily risks and identifying our solutions, this report aims to help you with insight into hearing related issues as well as strategies on how you can protect yourself and the hearing of your loved ones