We live in a noisy world. There’s so much noise so much of the time that we become oblivious to it. We accept noise as the background to our lives. That is, until we find ourselves left out of conversations and turning up the volume on the television because we can’t hear.
Even everyday sounds like household appliances and portable music players can slowly rob you of your ability to hear. According to the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), exposure to loud and long-lasting sounds can damage sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Hearing loss can be so gradual that you don’t notice it until it’s a big problem. And it can be permanent.
Exposure to extremely loud sounds like gunshots or explosions can immediately rupture your eardrum or cause damage to bones in your middle ear. Sometimes, it’s temporary and hearing returns within a few days. It can also be permanent.
The NIDCD says about 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss related to noise exposure. About 16 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 have some hearing loss due to loud noise.
5 Every Day Noises That Can Ruin Your Hearing
1. City noises: heavy traffic, the subway, motorcycles, sirens
2. Yard and garden tools: lawnmowers, leaf blowers
3. Power tools: drills, chainsaws, jackhammers
4. Music: portable music devices with earphones, rock concerts
5. Household appliances: blenders, food processors, blow dryers
Sound is measured in decibels. According to the NIDCD, prolonged exposure to noises at or above 85 decibels can damage your hearing. Without protection, you should limit exposure to noises above 100 decibels to no more than 15 minutes. More than one minute of exposure to noises of 110 decibels or more puts you at risk of permanent hearing loss.
Sounds in the Danger Zone
- blow dryer: 80-90 decibels
- kitchen blender or food processor: 80-90 decibels
- heavy city traffic: 85 decibels
- power mower: 90 decibels
- subway: 90 decibels
- motorcycle: 90-95 decibels
- hand or pneumatic drill: 100 decibels
- snowmobile: 100 decibels
- rock concert: 105-110 decibels
- chainsaw: 105-110 decibels
- MP3 player at full volume: 105-110 decibels
- gas lawnmower: 106 decibels
- snowblower: 106 decibels
- sirens: 110-140 decibels
- jackhammer: 130 decibels
- firecrackers and firearms: 140-150 decibels
Generally Safe Sounds
- speaking in a whisper: 30 decibels
- refrigerator humming: 30-45 decibels
- normal conversation: 60 decibels
- dishwasher: 60 decibels
- clothes dryer: 60 decibels
- moderate traffic: 70 decibels
- vacuum cleaner: 70 decibels
- alarm clock: 70 decibels
How To Protect Your Hearing
It’s hard to gauge how many decibels a noise is, but if you have to shout to be heard or can’t hear someone who is three feet away from you, you’re probably in the danger zone. If your hearing is muffled or if you have buzzing or ringing in your ears (tinnitus), you may have some damage to your hearing.
Try to avoid repeated or prolonged exposure to loud noises, but if you can’t, take the proper precautions.
Personal listening devices should be kept at no more than half volume.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, putting cotton in your ears won’t help. Use ear plugs, which must be the correct size for your ear canal. Or use earmuffs that fit completely over your ears and are tight enough to block sound. For very high noise exposure, you can use both.
You can’t tough it out or get used to loud noises. If you are getting used to them, it’s probably because you already have some hearing loss.
If you think you have hearing loss, see your doctor, audiologist, or ear nose and throat specialist.