Hearing Loss and Decibel Levels


Hearing loss from noise exposure is preventable- reduce your risk of hearing loss by practicing Safe Sounds!

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a permanent hearing impairment resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise.

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 which causes hearing loss.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is an important public health concern and common issue (over 36 million Americans have hearing loss!), especially amongst musicians. NIHL is preventable if proper hearing protection is practiced – wear earplugs and limit the length of exposure to loud levels of noise (over 80 decibels).


Factors That Affect Hearing Loss & How To Prevent Them



Intensity: (average levels) 

Turn down the volume!


durationDuration: (exposure length)

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


distanceDistance: (between you & the sound source)

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


earplugsWear 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. 


How Safe Is Your Sound?





This chart represents levels of noise measured in decibels (dBA) -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 or safe 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

When you’re out and about remember to ask yourself – How Safe is Your Sound? 






Damaging Decibels

Sounds above 90 decibels (Decibel-dB or dBA- a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibrations intense enough to damage the delicate sensory cells of the inner ear, especially if the sound continues for a long time. These sensory cells in the inner ear typically do not recover once damaged; once they are gone, they are never replaced.

For instance, daily activities such as speech take place in the 60-80 dB range (the GREEN zone) and are safe without hearing loss for up to 12 hours. Alternatively, 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 90-100 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, visit the Dangerous Decibels website.


Other sound exposure facts:

  • 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.




Become an Advocate for Safe Sounds:

 Support music venues that Practice Safe Sounds.

Educate yourself about safe sounds and monitor your decibel 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