How Loud is Too Loud?

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

By: Cindy Erdos, Au.D., CCC-A

The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway, and the finals start next week.  I love watching hockey and I am an audiologist, so when I came across an article titled “Can hockey playoffs harm your hearing?”  I had to read it.  The research says,  “YES,”  the level of “leisure” noise present during a hockey game is loud enough to damage your ears and hearing.  If you are lucky enough to get tickets to the Stanley Cup, or any hockey game, you should consider getting some ear plugs or earmuffs for your children.

Most people tend to think that hearing loss caused by noise only happens to adults who work in noisy environments or those who attend lots of rock concerts or elderly adults who have had a life-time of noise exposure.  Exposure to loud noise without proper protection can cause hearing damage to anyone, at any age.  There is a growing concern about noise-induced hearing loss in our children.  We need to protect our children’s ears from noise-induced hearing loss and we need to teach them to continue protecting their hearing throughout their lives.

Our Noisy World

Do you remember that last time you “heard” silence?  We live in a very noisy world.  We encounter sounds every day, all day long.  Traffic, sirens, machinery, lawn equipment, concerts, movie theaters, sporting events are just some of the sounds we encounter on a daily basis. Sound Sense points out that a lot of our children’s activities involve some degree of noise: school lunchrooms, sports and sporting arenas, movies, and electronic media.  As you look around you are likely to see children, and adults, listening to some type of personal listening devices.

Even some children’s toys produce high levels of sound.  The Sight and Hearing Association publishes the Noisy Toys List annually and recommends downloading a sound meter app on your smartphone to help measure noise.  Their rule of thumb is, “if a toy sounds too loud to you, it is too loud for the child.”

Top 3 Noisiest Toys via Sight & Hearing Associations Noisy Toy List 2016

WWE

 

WWE 3-Count Crushers: Roman Reigns
Ages 6+
104.4 dB(A)

 

roadripper

 

Road Rippers Rush & Rescue
Ages 3+
103.9 dB(A)

 

tonak.jpg

 

My First Tonka Wobble Wheels
Ages 1+
103.2 dB(A)

 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently published an article titled, “Too Loud!  For Too Long!” The article reports that hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition and a major cause of hearing damage is noise exposure.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a billion-young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.

audiology

How Loud is Too Loud?

First thing to keep in mind is noise does not need to be unpleasant, or even physically uncomfortable to cause damage to your ears or hearing.   The intensity (loudness) of the sound and the time spent (duration) listening to the sound are critical. Intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB).  Conversational speech is around 60 dB; a soft whisper is around 30 dB and a shouting directly into someone’s ear can be as high as 110 dB.  Your dishwasher probably runs about 70 dB and the sound of your hair dryer is around 90 dB.  City traffic (inside your car) is around 80-85 dB, but when riding a motorcycle, you are listening to around 95 dB of noise.  Watching your favorite sports team live may expose you to as much as 100 to 120 dB – depending on if your team is winning.

So how much is too much and how long is too long?  85 dB is the “magical” number. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends any employee who is exposed to 85 dB of noise be included in a noise conservation program to ensure their hearing is monitored and they are instructed on hearing protection practices.  The American Academy of Audiology recommends any time you are exposed to 85 dB or louder you should use hearing protection.   In addition to how loud the sound, you need to be concerned about the length of time you spend listening to the sound.

The chart below gives more examples of typical sounds and the maximum recommended duration:

Leaf blower:                                       90 dB (2 hours can cause damage)

Sporting event:                                 100 dB (14 minutes can cause damage)

Rock concert:                                     110 dB (2 minutes can cause damage)

Siren:                                                    120 dB (1 minute can cause damage)

SOURCE: CDC Vital Signs, February 2017

Unless you have a sound level meter app on your phone, you may not know if a sound is 85 dB, 70 dB, or 110 dB.  Here are some signs that a noise may be too loud:

  • You need to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby
  • The noise hurts your ears
  • You have a buzzing or ringing in your ears, even temporarily
  • You don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise
  • When listening to music through your headphones you cannot carry on a conversation without shouting

Prevention & Protection

Most of us rely on hearing to communicate and stay connected to others.  As we know hearing is critical to speech and language development, speech and language are critical for learning and academic progress.  Even mild hearing loss can affect a child’s academic success.  The damage from noise not only causes hearing loss, but it can cause tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ears) and/or hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to sounds).

The good news is ear damage due to noise exposure is almost completely preventable.  With a little knowledge, you can protect your child’s ears, as well as your own.  You can also teach your child to recognize when sounds are dangerously loud and how to protect their ears and hearing for a lifetime.  It’s a Noisy Planet has activities and suggestions for encouraging children to protect their ears.

More tips for safer listening are:

1) Turn the noise down

2) Walk away or avoid the noise

3) Take breaks from the noise

4) Block the noise or use hearing protection

5) Use the 60:60 Rule:  listen to music at 60% maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.

Putting cotton or tissue in your ears may make you feel like you are protecting your ears, but most likely you are not providing appropriate protection against sound and possibly causing more damage as you may feel like you can stay longer in the noise because you have “protected” them.  You should use products that are made specifically for protecting your ears from noise.  You can purchase disposable earplugs from a pharmacy.  You can order earmuffs for you or your children.  You can even have customized earplugs made which are often more comfortable as they fit your individual ears.
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Damage due to noise is completely preventable.  First you need to recognize when a noise could potentially be dangerous, and then take step to prevent the sound from damaging the delicate structures or your ear.


 

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have noise induced hearing damage, contact an audiologist at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for a complete hearing evaluation and more information on how you can keep the hearing that you have. Visit our website here.

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