We are exposed to different sounds throughout the day. From household appliances, commuting, watching television, and having conversations; we are constantly absorbing varying levels of noise. There are sounds that you could be exposed to that are potentially harmful for hearing health. In fact, loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss which is one of the most pervasive chronic medical conditions that people navigate today. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to hear and process sound which produces a range of effects on overall health. It is important to be aware of volume and practice ways you can protect your hearing!
How Loud is Too Loud?
Sound is measured in units referred to as decibels (dB) and noise above 85dB is potentially harmful for hearing health. 85dB is the equivalent of busy city traffic or a lawn mower – so this level of noise can be easily experienced regularly.
- 0dB: silence
- 30dB: whispering
- 60dB: normal conversation
- 80dB: city traffic, vacuum cleaner
- 100dB: power equipment (hand drill)
- 120: airplane takeoff
- 130dB: concert
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) people can be exposed to 85dB for 8 hours per day without dangerous risk to hearing. When volume exceeds 85dB, duration of exposure has to decrease in order to not comprise hearing health. Specifically, OSHA’s guidelines for hearing safety recommends that for every 3-decibel increase (after 85dB), the safe exposure time should be cut in half:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 30min
Surpassing this can lead to irreparable damage, causing noise induced hearing loss. We are exposed to high levels of sound regularly and may not be aware of the impact it can have on our hearing.
Sounds that Could Harm Hearing
There are several ways that you can absorb hazardous levels of sound every day and not necessarily know it. Common examples include:
- Household Appliances: there are numerous types of appliances, power tools, and other household items that you use on a regular basis that produce noise above 85dB. This includes:
- hair dryer, blender: 80-90dB
- lawn mower, vacuum: 80-90dB
- hand drill: 100dB
- Work Environments: the Hearing Health Foundation estimates that 22 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace. This is a common way people absorb loud noise and develop hearing loss.
- Commuting: travel is another way that people are consistently exposed to loud noise. Commuting to work, taking flights, trains etc. involve navigating louder settings.
- City traffic: 80-90dB
- Airplane takeoff: 120dB
- Social Activities: there are countless social activities that also involve lots of noise – concerts, loud restaurants, sports arenas etc.
- Electronic Devices: using electronic devices to listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks etc. can also exceed safe listening levels. Depending on the device, some can reach up to 100dB!
It is important to be aware of noise levels in the various environments you navigate and to mitigate potential harm to your hearing.
Tips to Protect Hearing
By integrating simple safety measures into daily life, you can protect your hearing health. A few tips include:
- Protective Gear: wearing earmuffs, earplugs, headphones etc. can protect your ears from the impact of loud noise by reducing how much you actually absorb. Wearing this type of gear as you move through loud spaces is a useful way to protect hearing.
- Reduce Exposure: reducing your exposure to loud noise can include maintaining low volume settings on devices, avoid loud environments and opting for quieter settings, investing in noise cancellation headphones etc.
- Workplace Accommodations: employers are required to provide accommodations to mitigate potential risks so be sure to access the resources you are entitled to – protective gear, resources for hearing loss, changing work areas etc.
- Take Listening Breaks: give yourself breaks throughout the day from constantly absorbing and process sound. Power off devices and engage in quiet activities or rest in the quietness of your space.
In addition to these tips, it is important to have your hearing assessed to monitor your hearing health. Noise induced hearing loss is preventable and practicing safety measures is great preventative care!
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