Protecting Your Hearing from Exposure to Loud Noises

There are many different ways that loud noises can damage hearing. Sometimes one loud sound can cause hearing loss, but hearing loss from noise exposure can also be caused by prolonged exposure to moderate noise levels. Any noise over 85dB can cause damage with prolonged exposure—and normal conversational levels are typically about 60dB.

There are devices we use on a regular basis that are really too loud for our ears, including:

  • Vacuum cleaners and traffic noise usually come in at 70dB.
  • Alarm clocks are about 80dB.
  • Lawn mowers, power tools, hair dryers, and blenders top out at 90dB.
  • MP3 players at full volume are 100dB.
  • Car horns, concerts, car racing, and sporting events are typically in the 110dB range.
  • Airplane engines during takeoff are at 120dB.
  • Ambulance sirens and jackhammers hit 130dB.
  • Fireworks, gun shots, and custom car stereos at full volume are at the top of the scale at 140dB.

Noise at Work Can Cause Hearing Loss

When jet planes take off, they send out sound at 120dB and can cause hearing loss. That is why every employee at the airport who is outside wears hearing protection. Ambulances, fire trucks, and police sirens are nearing the top of the loudness levels at 130dB. But, the loudest noises are from gun shots which reach a mind-numbing level of 140dB.

Many famous musicians have significant hearing loss from the years of practicing and performing. Most now use custom ear pieces so they can monitor other members of their band, and reduce other noise. Firefighters, police officers, and military personnel have hearing loss due to serving our communities and country. They are in a tough situation where they need to hear to locate enemy fire, but are possibly harming their hearing while firing their weapons. While each individual’s susceptibility is different, many people notice tinnitus (ringing in the ears) after exposure to loud noises, which may become permanent.

Regulations for Noise Exposure on the Job

According the OSHA standards, workers may be exposed to noise at 90dB for 8 hours. However, for every 5 dB over 90dB, they have to cut the exposure by half. For example, if a noise level was 100 dB, a person can be exposed to it only 2 hours a day. If you cannot measure the noise level, a good rule of thumb is that noise can be dangerous if you have to shout to be heard. Also, if the noise is painful or if your ears start to ring, the noise is too loud for safe exposure.

Adequate hearing protection is readily available at your local pharmacy. Always choose well-rated earplugs that provide at least 20dB reduced hearing, and avoid placing cotton or cloth into your ears (it does not provide protection and can damage the ear canal). If you are regularly exposed to loud noises, our board-certified audiologists can create custom-molded earplugs to protect your hearing for years to come. Fill out our online contact form to learn more about our services.