When you think of ear-splitting noise, you probably picture heavy machinery or construction equipment, but many dangerously loud sounds aren’t on a jobsite. In fact, we may be so accustomed to high levels of noise in our everyday life that we don’t realize we are being exposed to hazardous sounds – noise so loud it could permanently damage your hearing.
How Loud Is Too Loud?
Our ears evolved to hear nuance and sound direction in a wide range of frequencies and volumes, allowing us to communicate with others and respond to sound cues. Hearing is a finely tuned sense, and along with that come some limits.
Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB) which indicate volume. Human hearing is calibrated so that sounds under 75 dB cause no stress or damage to the auditory system. You can listen to ongoing sound at this threshold (or less) and your hearing will not be affected no matter how long the sound level persists. When sound becomes louder than 75 dB however, it begins to pose a threat to hearing health.
Hearing damage from loud sounds is linked to exposure time. The louder a sound is, the less time you can listen to it without sustaining permanent hearing damage. On the job, 85 decibels, about the sound of a factory floor, can cause hearing damage after 8 hours of continuous exposure. Sound exposure times become exponentially smaller as volume increases. At 95 dB, about the sound level of a subway car or human shouting, hearing harm occurs after only an hour. The volume of a live rock concert, around 105 dB can only be safely listened to for 15 minutes before permanent hearing damage happens and at 120 dB there is no “safe” exposure time, sounds at these volumes will instantly cause irreparable harm to your ability to hear.
Everyday Noise, Extraordinary Consequences
Worker’s safety laws require that dangerous sound levels be mitigated with appropriate hearing protection, but there aren’t any laws that protect your hearing out in the world at large. Even as some of our noise examples above show, loud sounds exist all around us and can be hard to avoid. To care for your hearing, you should always have appropriate hearing protection. For those who are frequently exposed to dangerous noise levels, investing in custom hearing protection can help prevent permanent hearing damage.
Another way to care for your hearing is to use a sound monitoring app on your smartphone to help detect when your surroundings are too noisy. Decibel detecting apps can help you protect your hearing from overexposure to loud sounds and can identify the noisy parts of your daily life you may have normalized. Normalizing everyday noise is natural, but it doesn’t make it any less harmful.
Modern homes are full of appliances that enrich our lives, but many operate at a significant volume. From blenders to vacuum cleaners to coffee grinders, most appliances contain motors that deliver bursts of loud sound. To avoid hearing damage, avoid operating a cacophony of multiple appliances at the same time. Additionally, take breaks from appliance use so your hearing can rest. A simple decibel monitoring app on your smartphone can help you track when appliance noise crosses into the territory of dangerous noise levels.
Many people are surprised to learn that hair dryers can cause damage to their hearing, especially when used regularly over time. Part of the danger of hair dryers is their close proximity to the ear alongside the constant loud noise the blower generates. Try to limit your hair dryer use to short periods of time, air drying your hair as much as possible. Additionally, make a habit of directing the dryer’s force and noise away from your ear canal.
Live music can be obviously loud, but keeping track of the volume levels when we listen to music on a stereo, in home theaters or personal devices is just as important. Many digital devices don’t set limits to their volume levels or decibel output, making them potentially hazardous to the listener. Home theaters may emphasize their huge sound capacity, but like movie theaters, this often delivers harmful volume levels. Activities as innocent as watching a movie or playing a video game session can leave you with life-long hearing damage if the volume is set too high.