When it comes to protecting your hearing, limiting your exposure to loud noises should be your first step. Even short exposure to harmful noise can have permanent ramifications for your hearing. Understanding that loud noises are harmful doesn’t always make it easy to recognize when you are at risk for hearing damage. To get a better perspective, let’s take a look at how sound is measured and some common sounds that can cause injury to your hearing.
What Is A Decibel Level?
A decibel is a unit that measures the volume or intensity of a sound. Using decibel levels gives us a few handy thresholds to keep in mind for healthy hearing. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards, exposure to 85 decibels for 8 hours or longer can leave someone with irreparable hearing damage; 85 decibels is considered the starting level for dangerous noise.
It’s important to understand that decibel measurements are exponential. A sound that registers as 80 decibels is twice as loud as a sound that is 70 decibels. A sound that is 100 decibels is 16 times as loud as a sound that is 60 decibels (as well as 8 times as loud as 70 decibels, 4 times as loud as 80 decibels and twice as loud as 90 decibels). This means that as decibel levels raise numerically, sound becomes louder at a greater rate.
While 85 decibels can cause hearing damage after 8 hours of exposure, 88 decibels begins to permanently affect your hearing after just 4 hours, showing what a huge difference a few decibels can make. Any noise over 120 decibels, for any length of time, will cause hearing damage and elicit physical pain in your ear. Additionally, noises that register at 150 decibels will rupture a human eardrum. Sounds under 80 decibels are safe for prolonged exposure but humans start to register sounds as “noisy” typically around the 70-decibel mark.
Everyday Harmful Noises
You don’t have to be working in a factory to be subject to harmful noise exposure. Much harmful sound comes to us when we are at leisure, or through our appliances or transportation and while workplace noise exposures are mitigated with safety equipment, people often leave their hearing unprotected outside the workplace.
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Transportation noise can place a strain on your hearing. Subways and light rails usually operate over 80 decibels and may create noise louder than 110 decibels. Heavy duty vehicles like trucks and buses operate at around 90 decibels. Although vehicle traffic creates noise in the safe 60-70 decibel range, riding with open windows at highway speeds can create sound in the 80-90 decibel range for passengers. Even greater noise exposure happens on motorcycles, which combine exposure to engine noise and wind noise. Exposure to loud jet engine noises are some of the loudest sounds we commonly hear. While airplane passengers are insulated from noise and most flyover noise occurs at safe distances, you may be exposed to harmful sounds if your home or workplace is close to an airport, especially in the flight path leading to a runway or landing strip.
While the tools we use around our house often seem benign, many of them are capable of toxic levels of noise. Yard work tools like power mowers and leaf blowers regularly register sounds over 90 decibels. Chainsaws and wood chippers deliver even more noise, often at levels above a rock concert or car race. Indoors, food processors, blenders and vacuum cleaners can all reach concerning decibel levels. Some devices we use everyday like headphones and blow dryers can do extra damage to our hearing by delivering dangerous noise directly into our ear canal.
How we spend our free time can have a hidden cost for our hearing. Much like transportation noises, boats, jet skis and snowmobiles all have the potential to damage hearing through a combination of engine and wind noise. If you enjoy hunting or use firearms, the burst of sound issued by a shot can cause instantaneous, permanent hearing damage. Finally, keep aware of noise levels at public events like music shows, sports games, parades and dance clubs. If an event features fireworks, always bring hearing protection with you.
What You Can Do
The first step to limiting your noise exposure is to recognize it. If you think you may have regular exposure to harmful noise levels you may want to add a decibel meter app, like Decibel X, to your smart phone or digital device. Being able to read your noise exposure on the go can help you protect your hearing from prolonged noise and keep yourself out of harm’s way. If you are frequently around loud noises, carry ear protection with you and take breaks from loud environments. If you would like to learn more about preventing hearing loss, read this article.
It’s important to deal with hearing issues when they arise, and that’s why Greentree Audiology is here for you. Connect with us today if you have questions about your hearing or concerns about your noise exposure. Together, we’ll help you hear your best, now and into the future.