Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly exposed to and absorbing noise. Waking up to an alarm clock, commuting, listening to music or a podcast, and using various appliances; noise is part of our daily lives. Did you know that higher levels of sound can damage hearing? Exposure to loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. The World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people worldwide are at increased risk of impaired hearing due to loud noise. You may be imagining sound on the level of fireworks as hazardous but we are actually exposed to everyday noise that could potentially damage hearing. Being aware of this and practicing ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss can effectively protect your hearing health.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
One-time or consistent exposure to loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Known as noise-induced hearing loss, this results from damaged hair cells in the inner ear. These sensory cells help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals which then get carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals which is how we can understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause hair cells in the inner ear to lose sensitivity and die over time. Unlike other types of cells we have, hair cells do not regenerate. Humans are born with all the hair cells we will ever have. There are also no medical interventions that can replenish or correct this damage which then results in permanent hearing loss.
How Loud is Too Loud?
So how loud does sound have to be to cause damage? Well, the sound is measured in decibels (dB) and experts suggest that noise above 85dB can be hazardous for hearing health. This is the equivalent of busy city traffic or a hairdryer. According to experts, people can be exposed to 85dB of sound for 8 hours per day without damaging their hearing health. But exceeding this requires adjusting exposure time. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that listening time be cut in half for every 3dB increase of noise levels over 85dB:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 1 hour
Going beyond these thresholds can affect hearing health in irreversible ways. This highlights the importance of being aware of the noise and volume you are regularly exposed to.
Everyday Sounds that Could Harm Hearing
Some sounds are likely much higher in volume than you expect. Everyday noise can easily reach and even exceed 85dB. This includes:
- Household appliances. Numerous household appliances that you likely use regularly actually produce noise that reaches 85dB and above. This includes:
- hairdryer, blender, food processor: 80-90dB
- a lawnmower, leaf blower, vacuum cleaner: 90+dB
- power tools (chainsaws, hand drills): 100dB
- Work environments. Work settings are one of the most common ways people are exposed to loud noise. The Hearing Health Foundation estimates that 30 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace.
- Modes of transportation: different modes of transportation can be excessively loud.
- Airplane engines: 140 dB
- Motorcycles: 80-100dB
- Snowmobiles: 85-100dB
- Emergency vehicle siren: 110-120dB
- Social activities. Numerous types of social activities can also be hazardous for hearing health – concerts, noisy restaurants or bars, sports arenas, gun ranges, etc.
- Electronic Devices: listening to your favorite podcast or music on your smartphone can also reach dangerously high volume levels. Depending on the device, some can reach up to 100dB.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are many ways you can protect your hearing from the hazards of loud noise. A few tips are:
- Wear hearing protection: headphones, earplugs, and earmuffs are all ways you can protect your ears from absorbing loud noise.
- Maintain lower volume settings: turn down the volume on electronic devices, while watching TV etc.
- Take breaks: power off sources of sound and allow your ears and brain to rest from constantly processing noise.
- Assess hearing: have your hearing tested regularly so you stay on top of your hearing needs and catch any changes you may experience.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. Testing your hearing is a great way to establish your baseline and track your hearing health.