Hearing Loss and Decibel Levels

 

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a permanent hearing impairment resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. NIHL is an important public health concern and common issue (over 36 million Americans have hearing loss!), especially amongst musicians.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is preventable! Read on to learn more about how to protect your hearing and practice safe sounds.


Noise is all around us in our everyday lives and is a common cause of hearing loss. Hearing loss typically occurs slowly, over a long period of time, and is painless. Sounds become harmful when they are too loud, even for a brief time, or when they are both loud and long-lasting. Over time, exposure to harmful sounds can damage sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause noise-induced hearing loss.

 

Damaging Decibels

Sounds above 90 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibrations intense enough to damage the inner ear, especially if the sound continues for a long time.

For instance, a jackhammer produces a sustained noise level of 120 dB, the noise from a large truck can peak at around 90 dB, and the average noise level inside the cabin of an airplane can be between 90 and 100 dB over the duration of your flight. If you turn up your iPod or car radio to drown out the racket around you, you are actually blasting your ears with a dangerous level of sound. This combination of noise can cause hearing damage in a very short period of time.  For further information, please visit the Dangerous Decibels website.

 


How Safe Is Your Sound?

 

decibel_stoplight

 

 

The chart above represents levels of noise measured in decibels (dBA), is an expression of the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear. Sounds (measured in dBA) are coded green (lower) – yellow (medium to loud) – red (loud) and the permissible exposure times are noted before hearing damage begins to occur.

As a general rule, noise may damage your hearing if:

  • You have to shout over background noise to make yourself heard
  • The noise makes your ears ring
  • You have decreased or “muffled” hearing several hours after exposure
  • The noise is painful to your ears

 

Other sound exposure facts:

  • Daily activities such as speech take place in the 60 – 80 dBA range (the GREEN zone) and are safe without hearing loss for up to 12 hours.
  • Exposure to sounds of 85 dBA are safe for up to eight hours. Sounds above 85 dBA may cause damage to the delicate sensory cells of the inner ear, especially if sound is very loud or if it continues for a long time without a break (more than eight hours). These sensory cells in the inner ear typically do not recover once damaged; once they are gone, they are never replaced.
  • The dynamic range of music, whether performed by a symphony orchestra, brass band, or at a rock concert, can peak at 95 dBA or above.
  • 100 dBA of sustained sound can cause hearing damage after just 5 minutes! The roar of a cheering Saints crowd enclosed in the Superdome can peak at 100 dBA or higher. Sounds pouring out of some blocks of Bourbon St. can also peak at 100 dBA or higher.
  • 130 dBA, the sustained noise of a jet engine from 100 feet away can cause hearing damage in less than 5 minutes.

 

 


 

Factors that affect hearing loss & How to prevent them

 

Intensity: (average levels) 

Turn down the volume!

Duration: (exposure length)

Take a break in a quiet space, especially when sounds are over 85 dBA!

Distance between you & the sound source

Don’t stand in front of the speakers. Put some distance between yourself and the sound source

Wear protective earplugs when you can’t control the volume!

Besides turning down the volume and taking breaks, protective earplugs are one of the only protections against hearing loss brought on by loud noise.

*Many musicians, culture workers and music lovers can benefit from Musician’s Earplugs. With Musician’s Plugs from the New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center, sound quality is clearer and more natural than when using foam plugs. In addition, they are shown to reduce fatigue associated with noise exposure. For more information on Musicians’ Plugs contact the Musicians Clinic today. 

 


practice safe sounds

REDUCE YOUR RISK OF HEARING LOSS BY PRACTICING SAFE SOUNDS!

Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable! When you’re out and about at concerts and festivals, remember to ask yourself – How Safe is Your Sound? 

 

 

Support music venues that Practice Safe Sounds.

Educate yourself about safe sounds and monitor your dB levels.

Download and use free cell phone apps to measure dB levels.

Spread the word to fellow musicians and music lovers.


SOUNDSLOGO

Reference(s):
Informational materials provided by the New Orleans Speech & Hearing Center.
Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey
BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap