We are constantly surrounded by and absorbing sound. From the moment we wake up – alarm clock, kitchen appliances, television – to commuting to work – traffic, listening to audio – to our work environments and evening routines; we navigate various levels and types of noise daily. Some of this noise can be harmful to your hearing health. It is important to be aware of how loud is too loud and ways you can reduce your risk of developing noise induced hearing loss!
How Loud is Too Loud?
Sound is measured in units referred to as decibels (dB) and noise above 85dB is considered potentially dangerous for hearing. To understand how loud 85dB is, you can refer to this scale:
- 0dB: near complete silence
- 30dB: whispering
- 60dB: normal conversation
- 90dB: lawnmower, music in headphones
- 110dB: car horn, hand drill
- 120dB: rock concert
If you reflect on the levels of sound you are exposed to, you can begin to understand how often you could be absorbing noise that is too loud.
There are activities we engage and sound we absorb daily that could be harming your hearing. A few common examples include:
- Household Appliances: there are numerous household appliances that you may use daily that produce sound above 85dB including:
- vacuum cleaner: 80-85 dB
- hair dryer, blender: 80-90dB
- lawn mower: 90dB
- hand drill: 100dB
- Travel: everyday modes of travel can also expose you to loud noise. If you commute to work or frequently take flights, you absorb increased levels of noise:
- City traffic: 80-90dB
- Airplane takeoff: 140dB
- Work Environments: work settings are a common source of loud noise. There are countless types of noisy work environments: airports, construction sites, entertainment venues, bars etc.
- Social Activities: there are many social activities and hobbies that you engage in that exceed 85dB including: concerts, sports venues, gun ranges etc.
- Listening to Music: another common source of loud noise is listening to audio on personal devices which can easily surpass 85dB. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that among people between 12-35 (globally):
- 50% listen to unsafe levels of sound through personal audio devices
Absorbing loud noise can cause noise induced hearing loss which is a permanent medical condition that has multifaceted effects on daily living.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Over 40 million people in the U.S. live with hearing loss making it one of the most common chronic health conditions that people experience. Impaired hearing can be caused by one time or consistent exposure to loud noise. Intensity of sound waves impact the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear which help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to process; this is how we are able to understand what we hear.
The louder the sound we absorb, the stronger the vibrations and movement is of hair cells. Consistent and intense movement can cause them to lose sensitivity over time (one-time loud noise can as well). Because these hair cells, unlike other types of cells, do not regenerate; damage is permanent. This reduces their capacity to help the brain process incoming sound and ultimately causes noise induced hearing loss. Because we can so easily absorb potentially dangerous levels of sound, it is incredibly important to be cautious and proactive about your hearing health!
Protect Your Hearing Health
There are various ways you can reduce your risk of hearing loss. By practicing a few safety measures, you can protect your hearing health. A few useful tips are:
- Low Volume Settings: be sure to maintain lower volume on your audio devices. If you are ever unsure, you can use an app to measure the decibels!
- Use Noise Cancellation Headphones: which reduce background noise, preventing you from increasing the volume on your device.
- Wear Protective Gear: such as earmuffs, earplugs, earbuds etc. so that you absorb less sound in the environment you are in.
- Take Listening Breaks: your ears need a break from constantly absorbing sound so take listening breaks!