Noise Exposure––an Ounce of Prevention to Avoid Hearing Loss

By Elizabeth Brassine, Au.D.

I often tell my patients, “The three most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are family history, aging process and noise exposure.” I usually follow that comment up with, “You can’t control family history or aging, but you can control noise exposure.”

Noise can damage hearing, specifically long-term exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels. Examples of this level of noise include a lawnmower or loud truck traffic. Hearing can be protected from damage due to loud noise exposure by adhering to the following strategies:

Hold Yourself Accountable: You are in the best position to ensure that you practice behaviors that support healthy hearing for yourself and your family.

Evaluate Your Surroundings: If you are standing three feet away from someone and cannot hear what they are saying, the surrounding noise level could be damaging to your hearing.

Avoid the Noise: The easiest way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is to avoid the noise! Turn down the volume on your stereo or mp3 player and whenever possible move away from the sources of loud noises to diffuse the overall intensity.

Remember Protection: If you are unable to avoid excessive noise, muffle it! There are different types of earplugs (many of them custom-made which makes them more comfortable and ensure proper placement and usage) that can decrease the intensity of the sound reaching your eardrum. Protection should always be used while working near power tools, firearms, heavy machinery, concerts, etc.

So, how loud and how long? One way that noise can permanently damage your hearing is by a single brief exposure to high noise levels, such as a firecracker or single gunshot near your ear. But hearing damage can also occur gradually at much lower levels of noise if there is enough exposure over time. To protect your hearing, you’ll want to limit your exposure to these moderately high noise levels.

At 91dB, your ears can tolerate up to two hours of exposure (loud movies in a theater). At 100dB, damage can occur with 15 minutes of exposure (tractor, cement mixer, and snowmobile). At 112dB, damage can occur with only one minute of exposure (chainsaw, jackhammer, loud rock concert. At 140dB, immediate nerve damage can occur. Firearms, firecrackers, and jet engines taking off are all louder than 140dB.

So, be smart now and protect your ears from loud noise!

Dr. Liz Brassine is an audiologist and the owner of Hearing Services of McKinney. You may reach her at 972-838-1300.