Loud noise. The lawnmower, the vacuum cleaner, your motorcycle. Loud noise is all around us, yet much of the time we are so used to it that we don’t give it much thought.
But at high levels, the force of sound vibrations can damage tiny cells inside our inner ear. Once those cells are damaged, they cannot be repaired.
A single close-range loud sound, such as a gunshot or a firecracker, can damage our hearing.
Damage also can add up over a lifetime from what many of us might consider everyday noise:
- Music from headphones
- A rock concert
- A jackhammer at a construction site
Hearing loss caused by head trauma, disease or heredity isn’t preventable. But hearing loss caused by noise is. Here’s how to recognize when and how to protect your ears.
How loud is too loud?
Exposure for more than eight hours to sound at 85 decibels or greater can lead to hearing loss. As sound levels exceed 85 decibels, the amount of time you can listen safely decreases significantly.
According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, here are three common sounds that fall between 80 to 90 dB:
- Kitchen blender
- Food processor
Personal music devices like MP3 players and smartphones can produce sounds up to 105 dB. At this level, exposure for longer than a few minutes is considered unsafe.
Generally, noise is too loud if:
- You must raise your voice to be heard
- You can’t hear someone three feet from you
- Sounds are muffled or dull when you leave a noisy area
- You experience a sensation of fullness, pain or ringing in your ears after exposure to a noise
- Someone else can hear the music from your headphones or earbuds
Turn it down and plug your ears
If you understand what sounds can damage your hearing, you can take action. For instance:
- Turn down your music or television.
- Avoid loud noises or reduce the time you spend around them.
- When making a purchase, be mindful of the level of noise produced by toys, household equipment, tools and recreational devices.
- Use hearing protection around loud sounds. You can buy foam earplugs and earmuffs, or have custom molded ear plugs made.
See an audiologist for an evaluation if your hearing has changed. If you are exposed to loud noise regularly, get an annual hearing checkup. Learn about hearing services at Swedish or call 1-800-793-3474 for an appointment.