Even Mild Hearing Loss Can Kill You

Good Morning America ran a story this morning warning parents that more than 80% of children between the ages of 2 and 13 did not wake up to an active smoke detector.  As I watched, I nodded my head because that information has been available for a long time. Today’s report remains consistent with findings previously reported by Bruck (1998) who found that 77% of children with normal hearing slept through a smoke detector alarm that was active for 3 minutes.  When you take into consideration that most experts say you have no more than 2-3 minutes to escape a residential fire once the smoke detector has been triggered, when you do the math, things don’t add up favorably. Of course, the fall back plan in the mind of most is that the adult will wake up.. While adults with normal hearing successfully wake up to an active smoke detector within the first 32 seconds of signal activation, things significantly change in the presence of even a mild hearing loss.

In a comprehensive study by Dorothy Bruck and Ian Thomas, approximately 50% of adults with mild to moderately-severe sensorineural hearing loss did not wake up to a standard residential smoke detector even when the intensity level of the signal met Federal Fire Codes. More specifically, the mean pure tone average of air conduction thresholds at 500 Hz, 1 KHz  and 2 KHz for the adults participating in the study was 40.82 dB and 42.15 dB in the left and right ears respectively. If you are still reading this, you appreciate how vulnerable adults are to potentially sleeping through an activate smoke detector in the presence of even a mild hearing loss.  What is an audiologist to do?  Here are some informative links for you and your patients:

From the Altering Systems resource section of the Oaktree Products Website

  1. Residential Fire Facts
  2. Residential Smoke Detector Signal Requirements
  3. Research Summary of Smoke Detectors & Hearing Loss
  4. Smoke Detector Facts for Patients

Informational Articles:

  1. Alarming Facts Audiologists Must Know (Audiology Today)
  2. Alarming Facts About Smoke Detectors (AudiologyOnline article with eligible CEUs)
  3. Hard of Hearing More Likely to Awaken from Sounding Alarms

Research Articles or Abstracts:

  1. How Does the Pitch and Pattern of a Signal Affect Auditory Arousal Thresholds?
  2. Smoke Alarms for Sleeping Adults who are Hard-of-Hearing: Comparison of Auditory, Visual, and Tactile Signals
  3. Towards a Better Smoke Alarm Signal – an Evidence Based Approach
  4. Waking Effectiveness of Alarms for Adults Who Are Hard of Hearing
  5. Waking Effectiveness of Visual Alerting Signals (spoiler alert:  they are NOT effective)

Solutions for Individuals with Hearing Loss:

  1. 50% Chance of Sleeping Through Working Smoke Detector
  2. Alarming Facts about Hearing Smoke Detectors
  3. Bedside Smoke Detector Options
  4. Product Designed to Alert Patients of Emergency Signals


  1. NBC Today Show: Children and Smoke Alarms
  2. GMA: Warning for Parents on Children and Smoke Detectors

About AU Bankaitis

A.U. Bankaitis, PhD is a clinical Audiologist with extensive clinical, research, and business experience within the hearing industry. Dr. Bankaitis created this blog to educate her colleagues on viable product solutions for their patients and/or clinical practice.
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One Response to Even Mild Hearing Loss Can Kill You

  1. D'Anne Rudden says:

    Can’t wait to feature this great info tomorrow to my community!! Thank you SO much for the fantastic and potentially life saving blog post!!

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