Different types of sounds and noise accompany us wherever we go, be it at work or school, during leisure activities or whilst we’re enjoying the comfort of our home. The louder these sounds are and the longer they last, the more damage they can cause to our hearing – often without us even noticing.
The only way to protect your ears from being damaged by loud sounds and suffering from noise-induced hearing loss is by being aware of the dangers and making smarter choices. Only avoiding exposure to loud noises or using protection can prevent hearing loss. But for that, you need to know how loud is actually too loud.
Sound is measured in decibels (dBA) and is calculated using a logarithm. Sound-level meters measure noise levels. The higher the noise level, the louder the noise. To find out more about how noise is measured, check our recent post on measuring the noise of daily life in decibels.
It might not be the only question you should ask yourself. Because how dangerous noise exposure really is, depends on three factors: How loud is the noise? How long does it last? And how far away is the noise?
If this seems a bit complicated, the following overview may help you understand how loud 70, 80 and 90 dBA are.
|30||Whisper, quiet library|
|40||Quiet radio music|
|80||Kerbside heavy traffic|
|100||Sheet metal workshop|
|130||Rivet hammer (pain can be felt at this threshold)|
|140||Jet engine at 30 metres|
Please remember, noises are very likely to cause irreversible damage to your hearing if they are:
If you’re at an event and find that you must raise your voice for your friends to hear you, then the noise level is too loud. The same holds true if you keep asking your friends to speak up.
Here is a good rule of thumb on distance: You should be able to hear your friends at three feet away, and no closer. Shouting or speaking very loudly means double the hearing damage – not only from the loud noise you’re enduring but also the close-range shouting.
A person’s individual response to different levels of sound can vary greatly. However, you can easily identify a sound that is too loud if you find yourself:
These are clear signs that you’ve been exposed to too loud noises and have possibly damaged your hearing. In this case, you should immediately get a hearing assessment by a trusted audiologist. A hearing test is essential to manage any harm and reduce any further deterioration of your hearing.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, or NIHL, may happen when you listen to loud sounds. These sounds can last a long time, like listening to a concert, or they can be short, like from gunfire.
Remember, these three factors put you at risk for NIHL:
A close-range gun blast may be brief, but the intensity and proximity are enough to cause immediate hearing damage. While a hairdryer isn’t as loud as a gun, if you’re operating one for hours every workday at a hair salon, you can start to experience hearing loss.
Knowing how noise impacts you is the key to protecting your hearing. The next step is to avoid loud noise whenever possible. If you must shout to be heard, it is too loud. You should get away from the noise or find a way to protect your ears.
Here are some things you can do to protect your hearing:
Workplaces are required to provide audiometric testing for workers who are being exposed to noise that exceeds the exposure standard. They are also required to provide personal hearing protectors as a preventative measure.
Audiometric testing is usually provided within three months of a worker starting a job that exposes them to a risk of work-related, noise-induced hearing loss.
Starting the audiometric testing before people are exposed to hazardous noise. provides a baseline as a reference for future audiometric test results. Regular follow-up tests should occur at least every two years.
We all experience exposure to a range of noise levels in our everyday lives. It is important to be aware of occasions when excess noise may damage our hearing and protect ourselves. Noise-induced hearing loss is usually slow and painless. It is also often permanent because loud noise can cause irreversible damage to the ear.
If you feel that your hearing may have worsened, book an appointment with one of our highly-skilled, friendly audiologists for a thorough hearing assessment. Luckily, there are remedial actions that can improve your hearing and your engagement with work and life.