Question: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: How Loud is too Loud?

By Dr. Anne Simon

July 6, 2016

Answer: Like many of you, I spent the Fourth with my family and friends enjoying fireworks. But, our family’s approach to fireworks is a little different than most. At over 110 decibels, I prefer to keep a few blocks distance from fireworks. At this loud level, you really don’t want to be that close to fireworks without hearing protection.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common cause of deafness (Aging is first). The National Institute of Deafness estimates that 15% of Americans between the ages of 20-69 are effected by noise-induced hearing loss. The significance of that number, however, is that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Noises less than 75 dB are considered safe regardless of length of exposure but sounds 85 dB or more can cause permanent hearing loss with prolonged exposure. Both the duration of exposure and distance from the noise impact its effect. Louder noises are tolerated for less time. For every 10 dB increase, the sound is ten times more intense, even if to our ears, it seems only twice as loud.

Some common noises you are exposed to and their estimated decibel levels: conversation is 60 dB, whistling tea kettle is 80 dB, and power tools can be 90 dB or above. Gun shots, jet engines, and sirens can be over 110 dB. The louder the noise, and the more time you spend near it, the more important it is to wear hearing protection.

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