What is “loud” and what should we know about hearing?

Aging does affect hearing. That is true. However, since the day we are born, and every day thereafter, whether we’re at work, in crowds, going to movies or concerts, we are subjected to various levels of potentially damaging sounds to our hearing. Indeed, loud noise is the number one cause of preventable hearing loss in adults.

There are many things we all should keep in mind as some people are more sensitive to loud sounds than others, but damage can be done despite what someone might believe or if it “hurts” when it happens.

For most people, a safe level of continued (8 hours) sound/noise exposure is 85 decibels (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health – NIOSH) – is acceptable to “MINIMIZE” noise-induced hearing loss. Permanent damage can be caused with just a momentary exposure at 120 decibels. Some will hear “ringing” in their ears for a period of time (sometimes it is permanent); this is known as tinnitus. Some may not have any noticeable loss or ringing, but that doesn’t mean damage is not occurring.

To provide some perspective, if you are about three meters from a standard vacuum cleaner, you are experiencing about 75 decibels of noise. So, at about 10 feet, the sound experience is below the “danger” threshold. That sound changes, however, if you are closer and can cause damage to your hearing.

Consider the sound and distance from the noise when doing your day-to-day activities, as provided by NIOSH and the American Tinnitus Association, among other sources (measurements are approximations and meant to provide examples, only):

• General conversation with someone at a distance of about three feet – 55 to 60 decibels
• Heavy truck at about 50 feet – 85 decibels
• “normal” hair dryer use – not directly into ear, that is – about 100 decibels
• Subway train going by – 100 decibels
• Jackhammer at about 100 feet –130 (or more) decibels
• Gas mower and gas-powered chainsaws at personal use distance – about 105 decibels
• A screaming child being held – about 110 decibels
• Night club music – 110 decibels
• Rock concert – 120 decibels
• Shotgun – 120 decibels
• Movie night at the theater – industry standard is about 85 decibels for “standard” movie
• Alarm clock at two feet – 80 decibels
• Jet take-off at about a football field length – give or take – 125 decibels
Infant sleep machines – at full volume are between about 69 to 93 decibels at about one foot

What does that mean? Be smart, know your surroundings and understand how sound works and affects your ears.

Did you note the “***for Infant sleep machines”? Well, that simply is highlighted to show that safe sound exposure is different for infants than it is for adults. And, a recent study released by the University of Toronto in the Journal of Pediatrics showed the posted numbers for “infant sleep machines” – some are louder (!) than what is considered safe for adults. Well, an infant’s ear canal obviously is smaller than that of an adult. Therefore, in babies, higher-frequency sounds are amplified. The point here is that damage can happen at any time and affects different people, well, differently. While that may seem obvious, it is very clear evidence SUGGESTS that age-related hearing-loss may result from youthful exposure to noise.

The Bottom Line: protect your hearing all of the time in noisy environments; just because others are not covering their ears from the obvious noise doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. At Fauquier Hearing Services, we have a variety of products to protect your hearing from loud noise. Options include generic or custom plugs, filtered and unfiltered designs. The best type for you depends on what type of noise you need to address. No worries, though – our specialists are well-versed in ear protection and can help you chose exactly the style that best suits your needs.

As always, Fauquier Hearing Services is here to provide full-service audiology practice committed to improving your quality of life through better hearing. Please visit us at www.fauquierhearing.com or give us a call at 540-341-7112 to make an appointment. Either way, please LIKE us on Facebook! We appreciate your support and help in spreading the message on better hearing practices.


A fun and interactive website provided by the Oregon Health & Science University can be found at: http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/virtualexhibit/

A great site to explore for ear protection options can be found at www.westone.com.