One of the most important things to know about hearing loss is that most hearing loss is preventable. That’s because the majority of permanent hearing loss can be traced back to noise exposure. Subjecting your hearing to excessively loud noise can cause permanent damage – sometimes instantaneously. That’s why it is important to understand how much noise you are exposed to on a daily basis, protect your hearing when necessary and limit your time around loud noise.
Decibels and Your Hearing
To understand what constitutes a dangerous noise level, let’s get familiar with decibels. Decibels are a scale for measuring sound volume. The softest threshold for human hearing is sound at 0 dB, and the scale increases as sounds get louder. Most everyday conversation occurs at around 50 dB, a whisper is about 25 dB.
As decibel levels increase, sound can pose a threat to your hearing. The ear relies on delicate sensory cells to pick up sound waves in the air and signal the incoming sound to the brain. While these cells are dynamic and sensitive, they are also fragile – too much exposure to loud noise can stress and break these cells permanently, causing hearing loss.
Sound at 85 dB, about the volume of a factory floor, can cause permanent hearing damage after 8 hours of continual exposure. Sound at greater volume can create permanent hearing damage in exponentially less time. At 88 dB, the noise level of many power tools, hearing harm occurs after only 4 hours of continued exposure. By the time noise hits 94 dB, only one hour of exposure is safe.
The volume of a rock concert, around 100 dB is only safe for unprotected human hearing for 15 minutes. Very loud sounds like fireworks and gunshots register at around 120 dB and cause hearing injury immediately. Above 120 dB all sounds cause instant and permanent hearing loss – at the threshold of 140 dB sound can cause physical pain in the ear.
Daily Noise Exposure
Your hearing needs rest after being exposed to loud sounds – time to recover from the stress excess noise puts on the auditory system. This is why it is important to know not only how much noise is in your surroundings, but how much cumulative noise you are exposed to. When thinking about daily noise exposure, 85 dB again represents the threshold of unsafe sound – meaning that your sound exposure for the day meets or exceeds the equivalency of 85 dB for eight hours.
Using this averaging method, 16 hours of exposure at 82 dB or 1 hour of exposure at 94 dB are both equal to an 85 dB daily exposure, and indicates that hearing damage is occurring in your daily life.
How Do You Monitor Exposure?
Thinking in decibels can be abstract and we can’t reliably gauge sound levels simply by listening. Luckily, modern tech means that you can have a portable decibel meter wherever you go. Decibel monitoring apps like Decibel X and the NIOSH Sound Level Meter turn your smartphone into a device to help you keep track of the noise levels around you. In loud environments, knowing the decibel level in your surroundings can help you assess the risk to your hearing and protect your hearing from unnecessary harm.
Conveniently, some apps also offer exposure assessment features like a noise dosimeter. A dosimeter monitors your daily sound exposure and tallies sound levels throughout your day. Alerts can be set up to notify you when your sound exposure limit is nearing dangerous levels. By making accurate noise monitoring easy to access, decibel meter apps make understanding your hearing risk easier than ever before.
How Do You Protect Your Hearing?
Protecting your hearing from noise may vary from situation to situation, but there are two main strategies – avoiding the time thresholds for loud sounds and protecting your ears with earplugs or ear muffs.
Monitoring sound levels can let you know when a loud environment can lead to hearing injury. When possible, it is best to simply avoid loud noises. For many people loud noises are an environmental reality. If you face dangerously loud sounds in your everyday routine, it is time to make use of ear plugs or ear muffs to reduce incoming decibel levels.
One of the best ways to protect your hearing is to schedule an annual hearing test. We can monitor your hearing abilities year to year and provide you with hearing protection advice! Contact us today to schedule a consultation.