Dr. Cynthia L. Ellison, Au.D
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When you work in a noisy environment, federal regulations mandate that you protect your hearing. Wearing protective earplugs and earmuffs to reduce noise levels keeps millions of workers worldwide from losing their hearing on-the-job every year. But when the work day is done, there’s no rules that help limit a person’s noise exposure.

Do you know when a loud sound is dangerous to your hearing? Often, we normalize dangerous sound levels in our everyday life without realizing the harm they may be causing. Hearing damage from loud noises is based on a combination of factors, namely the volume of the sound and the length of time you are exposed to it. Your ears need rest between loud sounds to prevent permanent damage from occurring.

 

Know Your Decibels

Sound is measured by a unit called decibels (dB). Noise related hearing loss can begin at levels of 75 dB, about the sound of a busy street, when you are exposed to 24 hours of noise. Professional regulations are based around levels of 85 dB which causes lasting hearing damage after only 8 hours. Maximum exposure times rapidly decrease from that level. At 94 dB only one hour of noise is safe, while at 100 dB exposure time shouldn’t last beyond 15 minutes. Sounds above 120 dB cause hearing loss in a matter of seconds, while levels above 130 dB cause physical pain and instantaneous permanent hearing damage.

While you may not have many 130 dB sounds in your everyday life, we’ll wager you have some bad listening habits that may be putting your hearing at risk. Here are some of the most common everyday sources of noise exposure:

 

Volume Control

Whether on a personal listening device or through the sound system of a home stereo, it’s easy to misjudge safe listening volumes. For home stereos, television and radio don’t set your volume control so loud that you’d have to raise your voice to be heard over it. For personal devices, check your listening device’s preferences for setting volume or decibel limits. If no volume control maximums are given, go by the rule of thumb of keeping your volume level set below midline.

 

Power Tools

Whether you have a woodworking hobby, are a backyard mechanic or do weekend DIY projects around your home, using power tools can expose you to dangerous noise levels if you don’t use hearing protection.  Running power tools can easily exceed 100 dB, especially while sawing, sanding or grinding. To minimize your hearing risk, treat your noisy workroom as if it were a factory floor and always wear earmuffs or ear plugs when using power tools at home.

 

Appliances

Throughout the years, consumer demand has made traditionally loud household appliances like vacuums, blenders and hair dryers quiet down a bit, but many products still reach sound levels that can be hazardous to your hearing health. The solution? Limit your time use with loud appliances – take a break from vacuuming or hair drying every fifteen minutes to give your ears some down time.

 

Concerts

A night on the town can be the highlight of your week and taking in live music can be a night to remember your whole life. It’s important to remember that live concerts, especially rock shows and pop acts blast their sound at volumes that are literally deafening. Make sure ear plugs are on your checklist of things to bring with you to the show and don’t be afraid to take breaks from the music to let your ears rest. If you hear a ringing in your ears, that’s not a sign of a great show- that’s an indication your hearing has been permanently damaged!

 

Commuting

Whether you get to work by plane, train, or automobile, the odds are high that it isn’t great for your hearing. Highway traffic can easily surpass the 90 dB mark, and depending on the length and method of your commute your hearing may need a break from all the noise exposure. Don’t try drowning out commute noise with even louder music, we promise it’s not helping. Instead, keep your windows up for some additional noise protection and keep any radio or music at mid volume so it doesn’t add to the fray.