In today’s modern world, noise seems to be everywhere, from washing machines to fireworks, and motorbikes to airplanes. But, what happens when sounds are too loud or if we are exposed to them for too long?
Prolonged exposure to overly loud noise or brief exposure to an extremely loud noise may damage the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss – and the loss may be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect people of any age and, it is estimated that it affects about 15 percent of Americans.
Factors affecting noise-induced hearing loss
The factors which affect the likelihood of loud sounds causing noise-induced hearing loss are:
- Volume (Greater than 85dB)
- Duration/repeated exposure
- Proximity to the sound
The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes to damage hearing. Any sound above 85dB can cause hearing loss after approximately eight hours of continuous exposure. However, if the noise level is 100dB, your hearing could be damaged in as little as 15 minutes. Decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale: 105 decibels is 100 times more intense than 85 decibels.
Read more: This is how loud a typical day is
According to the National Institutes of Health, just one minute of exposure to noises between 110-140 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss. So, which sounds could damage your hearing without you realizing?
1. MP3 player/mobile devices at maximum volume
Many mobile devices can reach 105 decibels. Fortunately, many MP3 players, cell phone, and tablets do have volume limiting controls, which enable the user to set the maximum volume to a safe level.
- Lower the volume.
- If your mobile device has a volume control limit, a setting of 75dB is recommended as a safe listening level.
2. Music festival or concert
Sounds get louder the closer you are to the source. If you are at a concert or music festival, the nearer you are to the speakers, the greater the risk of damaging your hearing. Musicians are particularly at risk of noise-induced hearing loss and should wear ear protection whilst rehearsing and performing.
- Do not stand close to the speakers.
- Wear earplugs.
- If you are a musician, use custom-made ear monitors.
3. Home Improvement Equipment
If you are using equipment such as chainsaws and nail guns – or you are in close proximity to someone using these devices, you should be aware that they can reach 110-140dB.
- Wear hearing protectors/ear defenders.
- If you are not using the equipment yourself and do not have hearing protection, move away from the noise.
A recent study published in Canadian Audiologist, showed that the noise generated by bursting balloons, at its highest level, was comparable to a high-powered shotgun going off next to someone’s ear. Researchers measured the noise effects by bursting balloons three different ways: popping them with a pin, blowing them up until they ruptured and crushing them until they burst.
“It’s amazing how loud the balloons are,” says researcher and hearing expert Dylan Scott, according to the study. “Nobody would let their child shoot something that loud without hearing protection, but balloons don’t cross people’s minds.”
“It’s amazing how loud the balloons are”
The loudest bang was made by the ruptured balloon at almost 168 decibels, four decibels louder than a 12-gauge shotgun, which means that even one exposure could be considered potentially unsafe to hearing for both children and adults.
- If children are playing with balloons, make sure they are supervised and that the play does not involve popping the balloons.
5. Gardening equipment
Petrol mowers and leaf-blowers, in particular, can be very noisy devices, reaching 85-100dB.
- Use hearing protectors, such as earplugs or ear defenders.
- If you are not the one using the device, move indoors, away from the noise.
- Protect the hearing of any children near the device while it is in use.
- If you find yourself without hearing protection, cover your ears with your hands.
If you’ve been exposed to loud noises and you’re thinking, “is my hearing damaged?” it’s important to see a hearing care professional as soon as possible. Find a hearing care professional near you.