Our hearing is fragile, and damage to our hearing is often permanent, affecting irreparable mechanisms like the tiny hair cells of the inner ear. As this damage accumulates throughout our lifetime, we become vulnerable to significant hearing loss. Damage to our hearing can happen for a variety of reasons including infection and injury, but much of it occurs with exposure to dangerous noise levels. Limiting our exposure to harmful sound is a huge step to take towards preserving your hearing.
Avoiding loud noises may seem like common sense, but in a world that keeps getting louder, it’s sometimes hard to determine where the noise thresholds are that can damage our hearing. Understanding how decibels work and how harmful noise is determined is a great first step towards recognizing and protecting yourself from sound that could lead to hearing damage.
How To Think In Decibels
The loudness of a sound is measured in units called decibels. Decibels express the intensity of a sound, but they are measured exponentially, with 10 dB of difference representing 10 times the loudness.
It can help to visualize this by thinking of the softest sound the ear can perceive. This quiet sound is 0 dB. A sound that is 10 dB is ten times as loud as the 0 dB sound, while a 20 dB sound is a hundred times louder. Sounds made at 10 dB are about as loud as human breathing, while 20 dB is about the sound of a whispered voice. Normal human conversation is usually around 60 dB, or 1,000,000 times louder than 0 dB.
Human hearing is undamaged by sounds below 80 dB, but at levels above 80 dB our ears can sustain harm from the sound. Permanent hearing damage occurs with 8 hours of exposure to 85 dB noise, which makes it a threshold for workplace noise exposure. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires workers to wear hearing protection if the work environment generates 85 dB of noise, such as a loud factory machinery or industrial equipment.
Because decibels denote exponentially louder sounds, our exposure time to louder noises is inversely shortened. While it takes 8 hours for 85 dB to affect your hearing, 95 dB can cause the same amount of damage in less than one hour of exposure. At around 100 dB, the volume of a live rock concert or a tractor, you can experience hearing damage in 15 minutes or less.
Extremely loud sounds like fireworks, gun shots and jet aircraft can cause immediate hearing harm and physical pain. Sounds above 150 dB run the risk of perforating the ear drum. At 150 dB, a sound is a quadrillion (that is, 1,000,000,000,000,000) times as loud as a 0 dB sound. Luckily, these very loud sounds are infrequent in most people’s lives. Unfortunately, just avoiding the very loudest sounds doesn’t put our ears out of harm’s way.
Everyday Noises, Ongoing Impact
For most people, commonly accepted sounds exist in everyday life which may take a bigger toll on our hearing than recognized. Sounds that slip above 85dB can sometimes be hard to recognize, especially if they’ve become an accepted part of our everyday life. A litmus test for determining harmful sound is whether you have to raise your voice to be heard above the noise.
Some common noises to be on the lookout for include noise from household appliances like food processors, hair dryers and vacuum cleaners. Power tools and lawn equipment can expose the user to dangerous levels of sound. Also common is the use of headphones to listen to a personal music device at high volumes. Sometimes the volume through earbuds or headphones can match your noise exposure at a live concert.
Transportation can also be a source of heavy noise that goes unnoticed. Light rail trains and buses can expose riders to bursts of harmful sound. With the windows down, a car ride on the highway can blast your ears with wind noise and make softer sound unintelligible.
Extremely loud sounds, like gun shots, should never be thought of as okay for our hearing – always wear hearing protection if you know these sounds will be present.
Many people start to perceive sound as uncomfortably loud when it is around 75 dB or more, but other people seem unaffected by loudness. Loud sounds can inflict damage to your hearing whether or not the sound feel uncomfortable to you. If you’re curious about where the noise levels in your daily life are, you may want to use a smart phone app like Decibel X to gauge your noise intake.
Visit Us At Hearing Spa
Are you concerned with the exposure to noise in your life? Are you looking for hearing protection or perhaps you are interested in gauging your current hearing abilities? Visit us at Hearing Spa for a consultation and hearing test.