Where You Live Could Be Wrecking Your Hearing

A new study has linked noise pollution in urban areas to hearing loss

Guangzhou, China. — REUTERS
Mar 03, 2017 at 4:37 PM ET

In case you weren’t aware, Friday is World Hearing Day, and a Berlin-based firm devoted to cellphone-based hearing tests has released data showing the relationship between urban noise pollution and hearing loss. Mimi Hearing Technologies ranked 50 cities on how much hearing loss residents experienced.

The company analyzed data from 200,000 individuals using its hearing test app, which it claims is the largest “digital database that tracks people’s hearing ability,” as well as research from the World Health Organization. This showed the difference between participants’ actual age and their hearing age, and found that high-decibel areas such as Guangzhou, Delhi, Cairo, and Istanbul reported the highest rates of hearing loss. Conversely, quieter cities, like Zurich, Vienna, Oslo, and Munich, had the lowest level of hearing loss.

The study only included cities where there were enough people using the company’s hearing test app to form a representative sample. Of the five U.S. cities analyzed, Portland, Oregon, ranked as quietest with the least hearing loss — 8th among all 50 cities studied — while Los Angeles was loudest with the highest level of hearing decline in the U.S. — ranking 33rd overall. In what may come as a surprise to many New Yorkers, the Big Apple came in second quietest among the U.S. cities studied, at 19th, with Houston and Chicago ranking 21st and 24th, respectively.

It’s important to note that noise pollution is not the sole cause of hearing loss for city dwellers — diseases, genetics, and some medications are known to also bring about hearing loss. Further, the data set has not yet been peer-reviewed.

“But this is a robust result,” Henirk Matthias, Mimi Hearing Technology’s managing director, told Agence France-Presse. “The fact that noise pollution and hearing loss have such a tight correlation points to an intricate relationship.”

The company hopes that the study will both raise awareness for city residents and governments, but also inspire people and health care providers to invest more in their eardrums’ health.

“While vision tests are routine for most, hearing exams are not,” Dr. Manfred Gross of Berlin’s Charite University Hospital said in a statement. “This is a concern as the earlier hearing loss is detected, the better the chances are for preventing further damage.”