When we think of sounds that could seriously harm our hearing, we may think very loud sounds, such as a jet engine taking off or non-stop drilling on a sidewalk. We may not think of sounds we encounter in everyday life. However, everyday noises can harm our hearing if we are exposed long enough. Here, we take a look at noise-induced hearing loss, dangerously loud decibel levels, and protecting your hearing.
Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
What’s the difference between noise-induced hearing loss and every other kind of hearing loss? Noise-induced hearing loss is the only hearing loss that is 100% preventable. Other kinds of hearing loss – such as presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) or congenital (present at birth) hearing loss – occur naturally beyond our control. However, noise-induced hearing loss occurs when we are exposed to loud sounds, either in a one-time event or over a gradual period of time.
Exposure to loud sounds damages the tiny hair cells of our inner ear. Hair cells are responsible for translating sound waves into neural signals that are then recognized by the brain as sound. These cells do not regenerate once they are damaged, which leads to permanent sensorineural hearing loss. If left untreated, sensorineural hearing loss could adversely affect our cognitive abilities and increase the risk for developing dementia, according to a series of studies from Johns Hopkins University.
When do Decibels get Dangerous?
How do we know when sounds are too loud? In some instances, the immediate pain and discomfort may be obvious. If you’ve ever stood too close to a speaker at a live venue, you may have experienced immediate discomfort. Generally, the rule is that if you are standing arm’s length away from someone and cannot hear them speaking, then the environment you are in is too loud.
Hearing specialist indicate that noises over 90 decibels should not be experienced for more than an hour at a time. The louder the sound, the less exposure time it takes to cause permanent hearing loss. To put this into context, most conversations average at 65 decibels, while the rustle of leaves is around 20 decibels and a live rock concert at its loudest can hit 150 decibels. Anything over 110 decibels is almost immediately harmful to your hearing.
Everyday Noises that May Harm Your Hearing
Let’s begin with the morning and move through the day. When you first wake up, do you dry your hair with a hairdryer? Hairdryers, though we don’t use them for long periods of time, could cause hearing damaged if used with enough frequency. In fact, hair stylists are at risk for hearing loss due to these short but loud bursts of sound. Switch to a lower power level for a hair dryer – which means they are quieter – or use earplugs when you’re drying your hair.
On your morning commute, do you take public transportation or drive? If you’re on the bus or train, it’s likely that you use earbuds to listen to podcasts or music. Earbuds create dangerous noise conditions in your ears and could lead to permanent hearing loss. Instead, switch to noise-canceling headphones. If you drive to work, make sure you’re not listening to music or radio at top volume in your car. The enclosed space with loud noises could be harmful to your hearing.
On the weekends, if you’re gardening or doing DIY-construction projects, you may be exposed to the loud sounds of gardening vehicles or power tools (120 to 150 decibels). Vacuum cleaners clock in at 70 decibels, while lawnmowers average 90 decibels and chainsaws are around 100 decibels. Make sure to protect your ears by using earplugs or custom ear protection during these projects. If you hunt (120 to 160 decibels) for leisure or attend live music events (110 to 150 decibels), it’s also important to bring earplugs or custom ear protection. These activities expose you to incredibly high levels of sound.
Protect Your Hearing
As Joni Mitchell cautions in her hit song, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”
The same can be said of your sense of hearing. We rely on our hearing for many different faculties and processes throughout the day, and because it is an invisible sense, we do not often pay attention to how our daily activities affect our hearing.
Taking small steps to recognize dangerously loud sounds and protecting our hearing from them is an important part of maintaining optimal hearing health. You can get fitted for custom ear protection, or simply carry around a pair of foam earplugs. With custom ear protection, there are different levels of protection designed for different activities. Musicians – professional or amateur – will appreciate the way custom ear plugs filter out the dangerous volumes while still providing access to the music. Hunters’ earplugs allow folks to remain connected to the sounds of nature, while protecting them from the bursts of gunshots.
Get Your Hearing Tested
The best way to maintain your hearing health is to get your hearing tested annually. Even if a hearing loss is not detected, we keep your records on file as reference. To schedule a hearing test or to learn more about noise-induced hearing loss, contact us today at Hearing Consultants.