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updated 10/26/2010 6:55:54 PM ET 2010-10-26T22:55:54

The crowds and chaos of Manhattan often give visitors a thrill. It turns out they may also be putting New Yorkers at risk of hearing loss.

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In many parts of Manhattan, just walking the streets during the day exposes people to decibel levels that, over time, can damage people's ears, according to a study being released Wednesday as part of the International Conference on Urban Health at The New York Academy of Medicine.

New Yorkers may not realize they're impacted by the noise surrounding them, said Robyn Gershon, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and one of the study's authors.

"That's the problem with noise. It sneaks up on you," she said. "It's a hidden hazard and a hidden health outcome."

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The study's researchers stood at spots around the city wearing monitors that measured noise levels right by their ears. The 60 sites in Manhattan were selected using data on noise complaints called into a city hot line. Measurements were taken from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Most readings — even in several small parks meant to be oases of green and calm — were above 70 decibels. People whose daily noise exposure tops an average of 70 decibels can lose some of their hearing over time, said Richard Neitzel, a University of Washington research scientist and another of the study's authors.

"This would suggest that people have no place to go to get that quiet," he said.

Some of Manhattan's noisiest spots were along the city's truck routes: along First Avenue above 14th Street and along Broadway in Inwood. Times Square and East Midtown were also among the most cacophonous corners.

The city Health Department warns that sound levels over 85 decibels in the workplace can lead to hearing loss. But Neitzel says that for city residents whose noise exposure continues long after quitting time — from noisy subway trains to blaring iPods to honking horns — even lower levels can harm hearing.

The study's authors argue that noise that doesn't cause hearing loss can still lead to other health problems, including increased stress, risk of heart disease and sleep disruption — not to mention annoyance.

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It turns out the city's quietest neighborhoods were also the source of some of the highest numbers of noise complaints.

Residents of the Lower East Side, East Village and West Village may live closer to ground level with fewer buffers between them and street noise, said Neitzel. Nightlife noise also likely contributes to those complaints. Residents of the Upper West Side also enjoy relative quiet.

Mercedes Padilla, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces the city's noise code, said the agency wasn't familiar with the report and would not immediately comment.

New Yorkers should consider wearing hearing protection and using noise-canceling headphones when listening to music, said Nancy Nadler, assistant executive director of the Center for Hearing and Communication, a nonprofit organization serving people with hearing loss.

"If it sounds too loud it probably is, and people should just turn it down and limit exposure," she said, warning that hearing loss is completely preventable — and permanent.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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