Loud noises are all around us, from the radio in the car to the lawnmower outside. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid them completely. However, exposure to loud noise is a very real cause of hearing loss. In fact, millions of people in the U.S. have something called noise-induced hearing loss. Some develop it after working for years in loud factories or construction zones, while others acquire it from something as commonplace as listening to their music too loud. But how loud is too loud? Let’s find out.
Hearing is a very complex system. Not only do our ears have to pick up sounds, but they then have to send signals to the brain in order to interpret those sounds. Unfortunately, any noises over 85 dbA (A-weighted decibels) have the potential to cause temporary or even permanent damage to the way we hear. Most cases of noise-induced hearing loss are caused by damage and death to the hair cells inside the ear. In other cases, loud noises can rupture the eardrum or cause damage to the bones in the middle ear, which are called the malleus, incus and stapes.
Typically, noise-induced hearing loss is gradual and tends to worsen over time. That’s why you may not notice you have it until many years down the road. So, while older adults tend to be the most impacted by it, noise-induced hearing loss can affect people of any age. It’s also important to note that not all cases are gradual. Some happen right away. For example, you might experience difficulty hearing for a few days after a loud rock concert.
To help you put noise into perspective, the average conversation is usually rated at around 60 dBA. Whispering comes in around 30 to 40 dBA. Remember that once a noise reaches 85 dBA or higher, you’re at risk for hearing damage. Some common sounds that are louder than 85 dBA include:
Are you exposed to any of the noises on this list on a regular basis? If so, you may want to take some steps to avoid repeated exposure and start wearing hearing protection, such as ear plugs or earmuffs. But, it’s not just the volume of the sound that matters. It also matters how long you are exposed to it and how close you are to the source of the noise. For example, someone standing right next to the speakers at a concert or near a loud explosion is more likely to suffer hearing loss than someone standing farther away. In general, repeated exposure to loud sounds for long periods of time is considered the riskiest.
When it comes to hearing loss, awareness and education are key. The more aware you are of the sounds in your environment, the better you can protect your hearing health now and in the future. Want to learn more about how to protect your ears? We can help! Make an appointment today.