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Measuring The Noise Of Daily Life In Decibels

eatting watermelon

If you are not already experiencing hearing loss, you’re probably not paying a lot of attention to your hearing. Everyday noise is more often than not an underrated factor when it comes to ear health, after all, it is just noise, isn’t it? 

Unfortunately, it is the sounds that we are not aware of, that can affect our hearing the most. Your ears are more sensitive than you might suspect, and even pick up on what is happening around you when you are asleep. During your busy day to day life, you are exposed to different sounds of your home, neighbourhood, and workplace. These noises are very hard to avoid, and it is perfectly normal to tune them out in order to function as a productive human being. 

What you are probably underestimating is the impact of those background noises on your hearing health and that of your loved ones. Natural hearing loss caused by ageing is only one of the factors impacting our ability to hear. Prolonged exposure to the sounds of your TV, common house appliances, and city traffic noise at rush hour can result in what we call “noise-induced hearing loss”. This hearing loss is related to both the power of the sound and the length of your exposure to it. 

But how loud is your life really and how can you, if possible, protect yourself? We have summed up the most common and impactful sources of everyday noise you are probably not aware of yet. This short guide will help you make better choices to protect you and your family’s ability to hear.

How Noise Is Measured

The damage is in the volume, but how exactly do we measure how loud something is? Noise is measured in decibel (dbA), a unit of measurement that indicates how intense a sound is. The higher the decibel the louder the sound. The decibel scale is a bit odd since our ears can pick up a huge variety of sound levels, from the light brush of a fingertip over a sheet of paper to a jet engine on full blast. Total silence would be the starting ground with 0 decibels, a normal conversation is measured somewhere around 60 decibels and a gunshot mounts up to 140 decibels. Since the intensity of sound fades with distance, every measurement has to be taken standing just next to the source of the sound.

As a general rule, it is helpful to remember that noise above 85 decibels over a prolonged period of time may cause damage to your hearing. Any loud noise above 120 decibels can cause immediate harm to your ears and is painful to experience. 

Everyday Sounds And Their Noise Levels 

You just learned that high volume levels can cause permanent hearing loss. Let’s have a closer look at which everyday noises can put you at a higher risk of losing parts of your hearing range. To make it a little easier for you, we are going to distinguish between moderate, loud and painful noise levels. 

Moderate Noise Levels 

Moderate noise levels include sound up to 60 decibels that accompany us 24/7 and may seem peaceful to you. They are rather unlikely to cause damage.

  • Quiet library – 40 dbA
  • Large office – 50 dbA
  • Refrigerator – 50 dBA
  • Electric toothbrush – 60 dbA
  • Conversations and phone calls – 60 dBA

Loud Noise Levels 

Loud noises up to 85 decibels are pretty common, but potentially dangerous for your hearing, especially with prolonged or excessive exposure. You may want to take precautions in order to protect your ear health. 

  • Taking a shower – 70 dbA
  • Alarm clock – 70 dbA
  • Vacuuming – 75 dbA
  • Doorbell – 80 dbA
  • Ringing telephone – 80 dbA
  • Using kitchen blender – 80 dbA
  • Using a blow dryer – 80 dbA
  • Buzzing restaurants and cafes – 80 dbA
  • Driving in city traffic – 85 dbA

Painful Noise Levels

Painful noise levels measured at anything above 85 decibels are the ones you should definitely avoid. They are less common but can have a profound impact on our hearing even at a single exposure. Make sure to wear ear protection if you can’t stir clear of heavy noise pollution.

  • Electric drill – 95 dbA
  • Fire alarms – 120 dbA
  • Concerts – 120 dbA
  • Popping balloons – 125 dbA
  • Football stadiums – 130 dbA
  • Jet planes taking off – 140 dbA 
  • Construction work – 130 dbA
  • Firing a handgun – 170 dbA

If you are already experiencing trouble hearing anything around 40 decibels, you might suffer from a mild form of hearing loss. If you’re having difficulty hearing anything above 60 decibels, you might be experiencing a severe hearing loss. In both cases, you shouldn’t hesitate to check in with your audiologist right away.

noise levels

How do you know that noise levels are safe? Luckily, there are some apps that can help you estimate the effects of sounds on your hearing and allow you to take preventive measures. If the results are higher than 85 dbA, be careful. The effects of listening to loud sounds over a longer period of time can be similar to hearing extreme noise for a short period. At 100 dbA, safe exposure is no more than 15 minutes per day. 

The Damaging Effects of Everyday Noise On Our Hearing 

When environmental noises exceed safe and healthy limits, our ears are in grave danger. Those sounds can damage sensitive structures in our ears and cause irreversible damage impacting our everyday life. Sound waves travel in our ear, towards the eardrum. If they are excessively loud, they contain a lot of force which may dislodge tiny little bones in our middle ear, causing damage to hair cells and impeding their ability to send electrical sound impulses to your brain. Unlike birds and amphibian hair cells, human ears can’t repair or grow back those hair cells. They are gone for good. As a result, you may experience noise-related hearing loss.  

But hearing loss comes in different forms and can have a variety of causes. High and low-frequency hearing loss affects people of all ages and backgrounds, including children and young adults. Even if you do not notice the effects right now, you may experience trouble with your hearing in the future. Gradually, sounds can become more muffled, you might all of a sudden have trouble following a conversation or need to turn up the volume of your tv or earbuds to the highest level to hear anything at all. The damage caused by excessive and prolonged exposure to loud and very loud noises, in combination with the effects of ageing, can result in a hearing loss severe enough for you to require a hearing aid.

These issues are shockingly far more common than you may think. One in seven Australians suffers from some form of hearing loss. The consequences are impactful and far-stretching: 

From missing out on a grandchild’s first words, being left out of a conversation or a good joke, to a general loss of independence and increased anxiety. Not being able to understand your loved ones, follow a conversation or listen to your favourite music, is frustrating, to say the least. 

Luckily, noise-induced hearing loss is something you can prevent.

Tips For Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, everyday noise is not just going to fall silent from one moment to the next.

Noise-induced hearing loss, however, is relatively easy to avoid. The Australian Hearing Care Industry Association states in one of their most recent reports, that half of childhood hearing loss and over a third of adult hearing loss is preventable. Learning to understand the dangers of noise exposure and starting to take care of your ear health and that of your family, are the first steps in the right direction.

You can protect yourself by following a few general rules:

  • Be aware of which noises are causing damage and minimize your exposure time 
  • Check the volume when watching TV or listening to music
  • When purchasing appliances, check decibel levels
  • Don’t spend too much time near speakers at concerts, events and in movie theatres
  • If you can’t lower noise, move away from it
  • Give your ears time to recover after prolonged noise exposure 
  • Protect your kids’ ears, if they are too young to do it themselves 

protect yourself

If you can’t steer clear of loud noises, make sure to protect yourself! Wear ear protection devices such as earplugs and earmuffs if you are exposed to extreme noise at work or during events.

Excessive noise exposure can ruin your hearing over time. But you don’t have to let it get that bad. Don’t ignore the warning signs: Early diagnosis is the key to avoiding further damage. Have a hearing assessment if you think you may already be affected by hearing loss or have questions about how to protect or improve your hearing. Don’t wait until it is too late and book a free 15-minute appointment with our specialists today. 

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