We’re taught so many basic safety procedures to protect our longevity and vibrancy throughout a long life. We look both ways before we cross the street. We keep up a daily walking schedule to stay limber. We take vitamins and eat carrots to strengthen our eyesight. We watch food labels and count steps. And yet, what do we do to protect our hearing?
On a daily basis, we’re exposed to excessive noise. Beyond headache-inducing, too-loud noise can actually lead to hearing loss. It’s an issue that led the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to proclaim that the “devil’s in the decibels.”
Noises over 85 decibels, which is the unit of measurement for sound, can result in damaged hearing and even hearing loss. And we encounter these dangerous decibels routinely and in unexpected ways.
Noise-induced hearing loss
The number one reason folks encounter hearing loss is due to the natural aging process. But noise-induced hearing loss comes in at a close second and in fact, the two sometimes overlap in a hearing loss diagnosis.
A decline in hearing health due to noise can happen all at once, like in an accident or explosion. In those cases, people are typically aware that their hearing has been impacted. However, noise can also harm hearing slowly and over time with repeated exposure. This is a more insidious type of damage, as it is often so subtle that it goes unnoticed at first or even for decades.
As humans, we are highly adaptable. It’s a quality that serves us well in terms of survival, but it makes detecting changes in our hearing very difficult. If noise exposure is just a little too loud — loud enough to do damage, but not loud enough to cause pain — we don’t really have any motivation to change our habits or use hearing protection until it’s too late.
How too loud sounds damage hearing
Loud noise damages our hearing health because it harms the delicate cells of our inner ears. Our ears are designed to funnel sound from the external world towards these sensitive cells so that they can receive the sound information and transmit it to the brain.
The inner ear cells are non-regenerative, though, so they do not repair themselves or reproduce when they’ve been damaged. The effect is that the brain receives less sound information and our experience of this is that we hear less.
How loud is too loud
Experts agree that any noise over 85 decibels can harm hearing and lead to hearing loss. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires that workplaces whose noise surpasses 85 decibels put preventative measures into places like sound barriers, hearing protection, quieter machinery, or frequent breaks.
Unexpected sounds that are excessively loud
But it’s not just loud factories that have to worry about excessive noise. We expose ourselves to it willingly every day in unexpected scenarios. Here are just a few:
- Blowdryers – powerful blow dryers can emit sounds up to 90 or 110 decibels. This habit, done day in and day out over many decades (not to mention aimed at the ears) can do some damage to your hearing.
- Lawnmowers – a landscaper or just a lawncare aficionado can harm their hearing with frequent mowing if they don’t wear hearing protection. It’s a chore that easily rates noise of around 90 decibels.
- Sports games – bad news for season ticket holders, sporting arenas can reach volumes of around 130 levels during a raucous gameday. Pack your earmuffs!
- Live concerts – if you’re seeing a performance that is amplified, you can expose your hearing to up to as much as 120 or more decibels. But classical fans should also take note: symphonic concerts can harm hearing with overexposure at around 100 decibels (especially those Mahler symphonies).
Ways to protect your hearing
Of course, there are simple methods to protect your hearing that you can employ. Custom earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, or other ear safety gear do a lot of heavy lifting in protecting your hearing health. As they say, prevention is the best cure!
If you think you have damaged hearing
In many cases, people have already experienced damage to their hearing, whether that’s due to the inevitable aging process or through exposure to too-loud noise. But our team of hearing professionals can help. We can help you schedule a hearing consultation and lead you through the quick and painless process of a hearing exam. We’ve already helped many people get back to better hearing and we’re ready to guide you, too.