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Everyday Sounds & Their Damaging Decibel Levels

Everyday Sounds & Their Damaging Decibel Levels

Unless you have hearing loss or have seen a change in how well you hear, chances are you don’t pay a whole lot of attention to your hearing on a daily basis. Perhaps you would even admit to taking it for granted.

If that’s the case, you would be in the company of the majority of people. Most of us simply don’t realize how delicate our hearing ability can be. But the truth is, even a lot of the things we hear from day-to-day can affect — and damage — our hearing.

Decibel Levels of Everyday Sounds

The loudness of a sound is measured in decibels, or dB. The higher the decibels, the louder the sound. While most everyday noises (typing, conversation, or the ticking of a clock) are not harmful, some of the things we may hear on any given day can be damaging. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), any noise with a decibel level higher than 85 could actually cause permanent hearing damage.

Whether it’s a single, damaging event or prolonged, regular exposure to high noise levels (even those below 85 dB), your hearing can suffer damage from things you my not expect. Let’s take a look at some of the decibel levels of common sounds. The decibels listed are average — you may experience slightly higher or lower noise levels in your daily life.

Soft Sounds

These common sounds will not damage your hearing.

  • Dropping a pin – 10 dB
  • Rustling of leaves on a tree – 20 dB
  • Whispering – 30 dB
  • Sitting in a quiet library – 30 dB

Moderate Noise

These everyday sounds are unlikely to cause damage and may even seem peaceful to you.

  • Babbling of a brook or creek – 40 dB
  • Working at a computer – 40 dB
  • Refrigerator – 50 dB
  • Conversation – 60 dB

Loud

The following sounds may cause damage if exposure is prolonged or excessive.

  • Taking a shower – 70 dB
  • Driving in traffic – 70 dB
  • Dishwasher – 70 dB
  • Flushing toilet – 75 dB
  • Vacuuming – 75 dB

Very Loud

These noises are potentially damaging, especially with repeated or prolonged exposure.

  • Blow drying hair – 80-90 dB
  • Kitchen blender or food processor – 80-90 dB
  • Passing diesel truck – 85 dB

Extremely Loud

These sounds are can definitely damage your hearing. Wear ear protection if possible or plug your ears when these sounds arise.

  • Subway or passing motorcycle – 90 dB
  • Hand or pneumatic power drill – 100 dB
  • Sporting event – 105 dB
  • Gas lawnmower or snowblower – 106 dB
  • Chainsaw – 110 dB
  • Maximum volume of most MP3 players – 110 dB

Painful

If you know you’ll be hearing these sounds, wear professional-quality ear protection and keep exposure to a minimum.

  • Jet plane takeoff – 120-140 dB
  • Emergency sirens – 120 dB
  • Large thunder clap – 120 dB
  • Popping balloon – 125 dB
  • Stadium crowd with maximum cheering – 130 dB
  • Jackhammer – 130 dB
  • Most firearms – 140-160 dB
  • Rocket launch – 180 dB

How Noise-Related Hearing Loss Happens

Your ear collects collects sound waves from everything you hear. These waves enter the ear canal and travel toward the eardrum. When the sound is excessively loud, those sound waves contain a lot of force. This force may even dislodge the tiny, delicate bones of your middle ear.

From the middle ear, the sound passes into the inner ear or cochlea. There are tiny hair cells that line the cochlea, which is filled with fluid. The cochlea and those tiny hair cells are susceptible to damage from powerful sound waves. If those hair cells are damaged, their ability to send electrical sound impulses to the brain, where it is interpreted, is is compromised and you can’t hear as well.

Brief but intense sounds, such as fireworks or rockets, can cause cochlear and middle ear damage. Continuous or repeated exposure to high noise levels can also be damaging. Once the damage occurs, even modern medicine cannot treat or repair it, so hearing aids may be necessary to compensate for the loss.

Other Noise-Related Complications

Believe it or not, hearing loss isn’t the only potential health hazard of excessive noise. Other noise-related conditions may include high blood pressure, nausea, insomnia (even after the noise is over), or abnormal heart rate.

Protect Yourself

In most cases, you can use a few general rules to determine if hearing damage is possible in your current surroundings. If you have to raise your voice for someone else to hear you above background noise, or you can’t hear someone from 3 feet away, the conditions could damage your hearing. If you have ringing in your ears (also called tinnitus), or pain after an event or experience, you may have experienced hearing damage.

Check your volume levels when watching TV or listening to music. If you have children, make your children aware of the noise levels of the same activities.

When shopping for appliances, tools, or other “noisy” products, do a little research and pay attention to the decibel levels. If you are concerned about the noise level of a movie theater, club, or other event, you can make your concerns known and ask the levels to be turned down. Try not to spend much time near the speakers!

Ear Protection

Ear protection devices include earmuffs that cover both ears, ear plugs, or both together. Earmuffs should cover the ears completely and have a snug fit. These can reduce noise by 15-30 dB.

Ear plugs go inside the ear to block the canal. You can buy them at a pharmacy in different sizes and shapes, or they can be custom-made. Just be careful to follow the directions and don’t insert them further than they are made to go. Ear plugs can also reduce the sound by 15-30 dB. Used together, earmuffs and ear plugs can give you a 30-60 dB noise reduction.

Of course, you don’t always know when loud, damaging sounds are going to occur. If you have a few seconds of warning or when the sound begins, plugging your ears is helpful. If you know there will be loud noises, such as at a concert or a construction zone, it’s important to be prepared with the proper ear protection. And as always, if you suspect you have hearing loss or have questions about how to protect or improve your hearing, visit a qualified audiologist.

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