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Cicadas cause hassle for people with hearing disorders

Two broods of cicadas, one on a 13-year cycle, the other on a 17-year cycle, will emerge from the ground this spring and summer at the same time.
Carolyn Kaster
/
AP
Two broods of cicadas, one on a 13-year cycle, the other on a 17-year cycle, are emerging from the ground this spring and summer at the same time.

The noticeable rise in the chirping of cicadas may be annoying, but they can cause specific issues for people with hearing disorders.

University of Illinois professor of Speech and Hearing Science Fatima Husein said cicadas can reach the same decibel level as a jet engine [100-110db] at the peak of their call. While she said the data gathered by monitoring the sound of the “super brood” so far has been inconclusive on whether the historic overlap is resulting in higher average peaks, it’s still enough to have a noticeable impact on people with tinnitus or noise sensitivity.

“Loud sounds, any loud environmental sounds or noises can exacerbate your own tinnitus,” said Husein. “So it makes it sound louder than it was before exposure to the sound. So that can be very annoying.”

Some people will experience physical symptoms both before and after exposure to the screeching of cicadas.

“They can sometimes cause a sense of aural fullness or temporary threshold shifts,” Husein said. “So when you come back into an indoor space, which is fairly quiet, you feel that your ears are kind of full.”

For some people with tinnitus, Husein said there’s a chance to experience an unusual, somewhat opposite effect, known as “masking.”

“So when they go near these trees which are full of cicadas, they hear the cicadas but not their own tinnitus,” she said. “So it sort of masks or dampens the sound via hearing.”

Husein said some people use a similar practice to manage their tinnitus, by listening to white noise machines or headphones paired with smartphone apps that play environmental or ocean sounds.

If you’re experiencing discomfort from cicada noise this summer, Husein recommends avoiding areas dense with trees where cicadas tend to perch. She also said going outside during dusk or dawn should help, as cicadas are loudest at the hottest parts of the day.

The cicadas are expected to be present in Central Illinois for about four to six weeks.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.