Your cicada survival guide

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 22, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Midwestern and southeastern parts of the US are dealing with a trillion cicadas through spring 2024.

  • Although cicadas don’t poison humans or spread disease, they can produce high levels of continuous noise—which could spell trouble for some of your patients.

  • Auditory hypersensitivity or other hearing issues like tinnitus can make cicada season particularly distressing, but earplugs and headphones can help.

Every decade or two, a swarm of large red-eyed bugs descends on humankind.[] While it may sound like a horror movie, the mass invasion of cicadas is simply part of nature. These creatures wake up, feed, lay their eggs, and die within a short timespan.

Fortunately, these bugs aren’t poisonous and don’t harbor diseases, but they sure do make a lot of noise. They’re also known to cling to your car, house, and even your hair—causing anxiety and agitation for many. 

This year’s cicadas are already taking over parts of the Midwest and Southeast. Luckily, they’ll only be around for about a month until their lifeless bodies clutter the ground they once ruled.

If you’re located somewhere in their path, primarily midwestern and southeastern states, here’s how to get through the impending plague with your sanity intact.

What’s so exceptional about this year?

There are several species of cicadas that usually emerge at different times, but this year, two species are due to wake up simultaneously.

As a result, the cicada population will be twice as significant—this rare occurrence hasn’t happened since 1803.[]

The Great Southern Brood's (Brood XIX) 13-year cycle and the Northern Illinois Brood's (Brood XIII) 17-year cycle are aligned for a mass emergence of about 1 trillion cicadas.[] Affected areas include parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Potential health impacts

Cicadas produce a high-pitch buzzing sound that can be profound when magnified in such great numbers. The emergence of so many cicadas is more than just an annoyance—the noise may keep people awake at night and disrupt daily activities. In fact, the incessant buzzing is loud enough to overpower jet planes flying overhead.

At 100 decibels, cicada buzzing has the potential to cause hearing loss after 15 minutes of exposure.[] This poses a risk to workers or other people who spend extended periods of time outdoors during peak noisy times (from dusk till dawn).

For those with hearing issues like tinnitus, or auditory sensitivity due to autism spectrum disorder, the noise can be overwhelming.[]

Wearing headphones or earplugs and staying indoors are reasonable protective actions. In addition, some children with autism may benefit from creatively told stories to prepare them for the impending onslaught of noise. Reassurance that it’s temporary may also help ease the anxiety.

If you’re curious about the sound of cicadas or any other noise nuisances in your environment, you can download a free app from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to measure noise levels.[] 

The NIOSH Sound Level Meter App can track noise levels with exacting precision using any iOS device. Plus, the app has been tested and validated by acoustic engineers and hearing loss experts. 

At the end of the day (or the cicadas’ lifecycle), it may be reassuring to know that the cicada sounds are fleeting and won’t be a burden throughout your entire summer break.

What this means for you

Healthcare providers in general should try to anticipate issues that may impact their patient’s lives, including a swarm of cicadas. If you practice in an area that’s being affected by the current wave of cicadas, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your patients to see how they’re adjusting to the added noise and disruption. Offering helpful tips, like using earplugs, may help them get through this unusual time with a little less stress.

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