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How Much Noise Is Too Much?

Aug 31, 2015 How Much Noise Is Too Much?

We all know that loud noises can cause hearing loss. But how loud is too loud? We measure the intensity of sounds in decibels, and knowing the decibel levels of different sounds can help you protect your hearing in loud situations.

Loud sounds are one of the main contributors to hearing loss in America. Whether it’s a one-time exposure to a loud explosion, or daily exposure to loud sounds from the workplace or during activities, the result is often noise-induced hearing loss. 

Hearing Loss Is A Major Problem 

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that 15 percent of Americans ages 20-69 have some level of noise-induced hearing loss. And a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 16 percent of teenagers had some level of noise-induced hearing loss. 

Volume Is Measured In Decibels 

The pressure or forcefulness of sounds is measured in decibels (dB). More decibels means a louder sound. But the scale for decibels is not linear. An increase of 10 dB means a 10-fold increase in the forcefulness of the sound. 

How Much Noise Is Too Much? 

When it comes to noise, the louder the sound, the less time it takes for that sound to cause hearing loss. Eight hours a day or more of repeated or prolonged exposure to sounds at 85 dB or louder can permanently damage your hearing. 

The problem is that many people don't know what 85 dB sounds like. Here’s a list you can use as a guide:

  • Normal conversation – 60 dB 
  • Heavy city traffic – 85 dB 
  • Lawn mower – 90 dB 
  • Emergency vehicle sirens – 120 dB 
  • Rock concerts – 120 dB 
  • Sporting events – 105 to130 dB (depending on the stadium)
  • Firearms – 150 dB 

If this list makes you think you’ll have to give up your favorite activities to save your hearing, don’t worry. Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable, and there are ways to protect your hearing while still enjoying your favorite activities. 

Protect Your Hearing 

Inexpensive earplugs can be found at most drug stores, and you can choose between disposable foam earplugs or reusable silicone ones. Earplugs are a good option for short-term exposure to moderately loud noises. For extremely loud noises, you may need more complete hearing protection. 

For musicians and hobbyists, ​custom ear molds are a better option than drugstore earplugs. These can be ordered from your audiologist. 

Earmuffs muffle or block noise entirely by fitting over your entire ear. Most are adjustable and can be found at sporting goods stores or online. 

Don’t let loud sounds prevent you from enjoying your favorite activities. And don’t let your favorite activities damage your hearing. Speak to an ​experienced audiologist about the best hearing protection for you, and enjoy the world around you, with all its wonderful noises.

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