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Grad Students' Survey Measures Arcade Noise Levels

Orono - April 25, 2008 - An informal survey of noise levels in four area video arcades found decibel peaks capable of causing temporary hearing loss in people exposed to them for as little as 30 seconds.

The concern is that extended or frequent exposure to such high decibels can compound damage to the inner ear, causing permanent noise-induced hearing loss.

The survey was conducted by University of Maine graduate students the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders for their Audiologic Rehabilitation course, taught by audiologist Amy Booth. Their "dangerous decibel" project is designed to educate the public about noise-induced hearing loss.

Arcades were chosen because of their high volume and young customers. The UMaine graduate researchers surveyed 95 local children ages 11-15 and found that 77 percent of them go to arcades an average of one hour a week.

"Noise-induced hearing loss in arcades is an unseen danger that people dont think about," says first-year graduate student Elaine Yandeau. "Young people who frequent these places think they're invincible, but noise-induced hearing loss catches up with you. And it can be prevented."

According to national standards accepted by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, eight hours of exposure to 85 decibels (db) of noise equivalent to the sounds of heavy city traffic is permissible before possible damage occurs. Noise at 115 db is considered permissible for 30 seconds before there is possible damage.

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells in the inner ear are damaged by loud sounds. The result can be high-frequency hearing loss that can affect childrens speech and language.

Using a noise dosimeter that records decibels, the student researchers found acceptable noise levels in two of the four arcades they surveyed in hour-long periods. However, in one, the average decibel level was 93, which by national standards could induce hearing loss after one hour of continual exposure. Even more poignant, the decibel level during the hour-long recording spiked to a high of 114.

In a fourth arcade, the decibel range was from 69 to 119.

The loudest of the arcade attractions were the action games involving racing, gunfire and fighting, according to the student researchers. Some of the loudest sound effects were amplified nonstop, even if no one was playing the game.

The result of exposure to such loud noises is often ringing in the ears and temporary hearing loss. In most cases, hearing often returns in 24 hours. But with repeated exposure to such high decibels, damage to the inner ear can be compounded, with the results of noise-induced hearing loss not obvious until later in life.

"Were not advocating for shutting them down, just turning them down," says first-year graduate student Lizbeth Quint.

The students hope consumer advocacy will encourage arcade managers to reduce the volume. Indeed, in addition to young patrons, employees in the facilities also are at risk for hearing loss after extended exposure at high decibels.

In addition to Yandeau and Quint, the other students involved in the project were Sara Hunter, Xiaomei Tan and Ann Mortensen.

Taken from: www.umaine.edu

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