How can hearing loss be prevented?

Photo of a carpenter with ear protection

Various things can cause hearing loss over the course of a lifetime. Some of them can't be prevented, but others can. Protecting your ears from noise is key.

Most people only develop hearing problems in older age. This may happen due to normal aging processes, which can hardly be prevented. But because not all older people have poor hearing, it is thought that our genes play a role too. They can't be changed either. One important factor can be influenced, though: noise.

Other possible causes of hearing loss – or even deafness – include infections and head injuries. These kinds of causes can be prevented through things like vaccinations against certain diseases (e.g. measles and mumps) or wearing a crash helmet.

How can you protect yourself from noise?

Frequent exposure to noise can increase the risk of developing problems with your hearing as you get older. Extreme volumes can even damage your ears straight away.

Workplace noise protection regulations

Some people’s jobs expose them to explosions, for example during detonations, or to loud volumes when working with noisy machines like pneumatic drills. Noise-related hearing loss is a recognized occupational (work-related) illness. Because of this, certain types of workplaces have to have suitable noise protection measures in place. These usually include well-sealed earmuffs or well-fitting earplugs, noise-insulating walls, a limited time exposure to noise, and enough quiet breaks.

What about activities in your free time?

Immediate damage to the ears (called acute acoustic trauma) is rare in everyday life and is more commonly caused by accidents. When fireworks explode, for instance, there is a risk of hearing damage and other injuries. So people who don't want to miss out on a fireworks display should only use tested and approved fireworks, not tamper with them, always follow the instructions for use, and wear earplugs when setting them off.

But hearing damage is more often caused by exposure over longer periods of time. Young people in particular often expose themselves to high volumes when listening to music on headphones, in nightclubs, or at concerts. That can increase the risk of having permanent hearing loss when they're older.

Nobody can say exactly how often you can go to a nightclub or listen to loud music without developing hearing problems later in life. Experts generally say that it's best not to listen to loud music on headphones for longer than one hour per day. The volume is considered to be “loud” if it's more than half the maximum volume on the device. It is advisable to wear earplugs in nightclubs and at concerts. You can also get special earplugs that filter out the different sound frequencies to the same degree, so the sound of the music and singing aren't distorted. These earplugs are often used by professional musicians. They are available in different sizes and strengths.

How effective are these preventive measures?

There is generally a lack of good research on whether protecting your ears from noise can prevent hearing loss in the long run. But that doesn’t mean that protective measures don’t work. For example, one smaller-scale study suggests that wearing earplugs at loud concerts can prevent temporary hearing problems. But there are no larger, reliable studies to prove that earplugs and similar types of ear protection also prevent permanent hearing problems later in life.

There is a similar lack of good studies on the various workplace measures. But it can be assumed that noise protection regulations and correctly used protective equipment make sure that employees are exposed to lower volumes at work. That might also prevent hearing loss in the long term.

Kraaijenga VJ, Ramakers GG, Grolman W. The Effect of Earplugs in Preventing Hearing Loss From Recreational Noise Exposure: A Systematic Review. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2016; 142(4): 389-394.

Lenarz T, Boenninghaus HG. Hals-Nasen-Ohren-Heilkunde. Berlin: Springer; 2012.

Sliwinska-Kowalska M, Zaborowski K. WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region: A Systematic Review on Environmental Noise and Permanent Hearing Loss and Tinnitus. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2017; 14(10): 27.

Tikka C, Verbeek JH, Kateman E et al. Interventions to prevent occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2017; (7): CD006396.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Created on March 17, 2022
Next planned update: 2025

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Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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