Keeping Track of Your Daily Exposure to Noise

Keeping Track of Your Daily Exposure to Noise

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Noise by Christa N. Smith, Au.D., CCC-A

Christa N. Smith, Au.D., CCC-A

Two causes are responsible for the vast majority of cases of hearing loss. The first is the natural process of aging. The condition of age-related hearing loss, otherwise known as presbycusis, is an inevitable result of growing older. Until we find an elixir of life, there is nothing to be done about this cause of hearing loss, other than getting treatment once it occurs. However, there is much to be done about the other major cause of hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs after a person has been exposed to damaging volumes of sound. We can protect ourselves against noise-induced hearing loss in two ways. 

First, we can limit our exposure to noise. Second, we can wear protection when we know that loud sound is inevitable. Let’s take a moment to think about some of the ways we are exposed to noise in daily life, as well as what can be done to prevent damage to our hearing. 

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

In order to protect ourselves, we need to understand how noise-induced hearing loss works. Indeed, a sudden blast of very loud sound can be enough to damage our hearing. Something like an explosion, car accident, or gunfire at close range can be enough to cause noise-induced hearing loss in an instant. However, this condition actually occurs through a combination of volume, measured in decibels, and duration, measured in hours and minutes. Though a very loud sound only requires an instant to cause damage, a relatively quieter sound can also cause damage after an extended time of exposure. Take, for instance, the sound of a blender. This home appliance can produce a sound up to 90 decibels running at full speed. 

If you use a blender to make a smoothie in the morning for just a couple minutes, you are not at risk of hearing damage. However, if you work as a barista, chef, or food service employee in a place where blenders are constantly running through the day, you might have enough time of exposure to suffer hearing damage. The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels of sound can be endured for a full working shift of 8 hours without damage. However, each additional 3 decibels cuts that time in half. For instance, a sound of 88 decibels can be endured for only 4 hours. A sound of 91 decibels can be endured for 2 hours, and so on. 

Prevention and Protection

With the principles of noise-induced hearing loss in mind, we can better understand how to prevent exposure, when possible, and to protect ourselves from noise when it is part of our daily lives or workplaces. One of the sources of loud sound that you can prevent is the volume of earbuds and headphones. These devices can play sound that far exceeds 85 decibels, meaning that you can’t just wear your earbuds at high volume for a full day’s activities. If you keep your earbuds at a quiet volume, they will be safe for extended use, but you might be tempted to play them at high volumes to drown out the sound from the world. 

Keep an eye on the volume and the amount of time you’re using them to make sure you are not causing yourself damage as a part of your regular routine. If you use loud appliances, machines, or other devices as part of your everyday life or work, it is important to wear hearing protection. A electric lawnmower might only emit 75 decibels of noise, but gas-powered lawnmowers can produce up to 91 decibels of noise. As you can see from the above calculus, 2 hours of use is enough to cause hearing damage. 

If you have a very large yard or work in landscaping, you need hearing protection to avoid this damage. You can use disposable foam earplugs as a baseline, but many people are better protected by over-the-ear noise cancelling earmuffs. You can even download an app for your smartphone that will show you a decibel reading in space. Take a few readings to get an average, and use this level to determine how advanced your prevention and protection strategies need to be.