This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of

Go to the index for this article

Go back to page one of this article

Page Two of an eleven-page article:
Noise: A Health Problem
United States Environmental Protection Agency

Hearing Loss

"Deafness, like poverty, stunts and deadens its victims."
Helen Keller

Noise loud enough to cause hearing loss is virtually everywhere today. Our jobs, our entertainment and recreation, and our neighborhoods and homes are filled with potentially harmful levels of noise. It is no wonder then that 20 million or more Americans are estimated to be exposed daily to noise that is permanently damaging to their hearing.

When hearing loss occurs, it is in most cases gradual, becoming worse with time. The first awareness of the damage usually begins with the loss of occasional words in general conversation and with difficulty understanding speech heard on the telephone. Unfortunately, this recognition comes too late to recover what is lost. By then, the ability to hear the high frequency sounds of, for example, a flute or piccolo or even the soft rustling of leaves will have been permanently diminished. As hearing damage continues, it can become quite significant and handicapping. And there is no cure. Hearing aids do not restore noise-damaged hearing, although they can be of limited help to some people.

People with partial deafness from exposure to noise do not necessarily live in a quieter world. The many sounds still audible to them are distorted in loudness, pitch, apparent location, or clarity. Consonants of speech, especially high frequency sounds such as "s" and "ch," are often lost or indistinguishable from other sounds. Speech frequently seems garbled, sounding as if the speaker has his or her "head in a barrel." When exposed to a very loud noise, people with partial hearing loss may experience discomfort and pain. They also frequently suffer from tinnitus -irritating ringing or roaring in the head.

There is even further pain the hard-of-hearing person faces: the emotional anguish caused, perhaps Unintentionally, by friends and associates who become less willing to be partners in conversation or companions in other activities.

Indeed, the inability to converse normally makes it difficult for partially deaf people to participate in lectures, meetings, parties, and other public gatherings. For a person with hearing loss, listening to TV, radio, and the telephone - important activities of our lives - is difficult, if not impossible.

As hearing diminishes, a severe sense of isolation can set in. The greater the hearing loss, the stronger the sense of being cut off from the rest of the world. What eventually may be lost is the ability to hear enough of the incidental sounds that maintain our feeling of being part of a living world. The emotional depression following such hearing loss is much the same, whether the impairment has been sudden or gradual.

The idea that hearing loss is solely the result of industrial noise is dangerously erroneous. Noise levels in many places and in some of the transportation vehicles we use are well above the levels believed to cause hearing damage over prolonged periods. As a rule, whenever we need to raise our voices to be heard, the background noise may be too loud and should be avoided.

Noise can cause permanent hearing damage

People with hearing loss suffer discomfort and social isolation

Hearing loss is not solely an occupational hazard

Go forward to page three of this article

Go to the index for this article

This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of