Do you recognize when a sound is too loud? In a world that is constantly getting louder, many people are normalizing environmental sound levels that are actually dangerous to your hearing. Loud noise exposure is the most common cause of hearing loss and, sadly, the most preventable cause as well. While noise can irreversibly damage your hearing, you can protect yourself by avoiding noisy areas or wearing appropriate hearing protection.
Noise-Related Hearing Loss
Part of understanding why noise awareness matters is recognizing just how much damage it can cause to your hearing. We rely on tiny sensitive cells in our inner ear called “hair cells” to detect sound vibrations in the air and transmit them as a signal to the brain. These hair cells are finely tuned to pick up even soft and distant sounds, but they are also very delicate and can be stressed to the breaking point by the extreme vibrations of very loud sounds.
Once hair cells are damaged, our body has no means of repairing them or growing new hair cells, so damaged hair cells cause a gap to form in the way we hear. Over the course of our life, more and more hair cells are taken out of commission due to noise injury, resulting in gradually accruing noise-related hearing loss.
The louder a sound is, the quicker it can cause permanent injury to our hearing. Sound volume levels are measured in a unit called “decibels”, abbreviated as “dB”. Our hearing is safe within the range of 0 dB (the softest sound detectable by human hearing) up to 75 dB (about the sound of a vacuum cleaner running). A constant, relentless environmental noise level of 75 dB can damage our hearing after 24 hours of constant exposure. Louder sounds can cause harm in progressively less and less time according to their volume.
The threshold of 85 dB is important for workers to understand. At this volume, roughly the volume of an active factory floor, permanent hearing damage can happen after 8 hours of exposure – about the length of a workday. Loud workplaces like manufacturing, garment work, construction and transportation all have the potential to expose employees to dangerous sound levels and workers are entitled to appropriate hearing protection by law.
At louder volumes still, hearing loss can happen much, much quicker. A typical rock concert, for example, usually registers around 100 dB of noise, which our hearing can only withstand for around 15 minutes. Very loud sounds such as fireworks or gunshots produce sounds around 120 dB which instantly damages hearing. Sounds above 140 dB not only cause instant damage but physical pain in the ear as well.
Noise In Plain Sight
Our world is more noisy than we often realize, and it could be harming our hearing. Take time to notice the volume of the noise around you and what you find may surprise you. Simple apps like DecibelX can assist you by turning your smartphone into a decibel meter. Some things to pay attention to:
- Your daily commute: highway traffic can generate significant noise, usually between 75 and 80 dB but sometimes louder. Public transit such as subway trains and busses can add extra noise.
- Power tools: important for many hobbies and DIY projects, power tools can make a job fast and efficient – but they often create some noise in doing so! Saws, drills and sanders, among other tools, can easily top 100 dB while they are in action, so hearing protection is a must.
- Lawn equipment: like power tools, lawn mowers, edge trimmers, leaf and snow blowers all generate quite a bit of noise when they are in operation.
- Music and media: Pay attention to the volume settings when you play music and other media like television or video games. Headphones can give you a false sense of moderation, when in fact high volumes through headphones can cause especially direct damage to your hearing.
- Appliances: like power tools, appliances can make our lives easier – but they often come with a noise cost. Devices such as high-speed blenders and hair dryers operate at volumes above the danger threshold so it is important to consider your hearing safety.
What to do about the significant noise in your life? First, recognizing and minimizing your exposure is important. Second, using appropriate hearing protection when needed will preserve your hearing even in situations where it may be threatened.
And finally, it is important to monitor your hearing abilities! Contact us today to schedule a hearing test and to learn more about how you can protect your hearing.