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When it comes to your hearing, there are two main causes of loss. The first is age-related hearing loss, otherwise known as Presbycusis. In this form of hearing loss, the natural inundation of sound into the ears takes its toll, and the tiny hair-like organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia lose their functionality.
The second major cause is noise-induced hearing loss. This form of hearing loss is quite similar in the mechanism that causes the loss, but it is due to a combination of loud noise and the duration of exposure. You might think that noise-related hearing loss is reserved for people like fighter pilots and rock musicians who are constantly exposed to extreme noise through their occupations.
When you see the list of household items that could damage your hearing, you might be surprised at the risks that surround you every day! Don’t be alarmed by the presence of loud objects in your home. The combination of volume and duration is the key to cause noise-related hearing loss.
However, if you use any of these loud objects for extended periods of time, particularly for an entire shift of work, you are at risk of permanent hearing loss and need to seek protection.
Common Household Appliances
The most surprising household objects that could cause hearing loss are at the lower end of the spectrum of volume. Volume is measured in decibels, and the cutoff for hearing damage according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is 85 decibels.
If the sound reaching your ears is 85 decibels, then you can withstand exposure for 8 hours without permanent damage. However, if you have something constantly emitting sound at that level, you could experience damage.
Take, for instance, a hair dryer. These common appliances can reach 90 decibels, well within the range of potential damage. Yet, even at the 90 decibel mark, you would need to be exposed for about 2 hours to have noise-induced hearing loss. For someone who dries their hair once a day, this might not be an issue, but a hair stylist should seek out a quieter hair dryer or consider wearing hearing protection.
Similarly, vacuum cleaners can reach 90 decibels, as well. For someone cleaning up the home, the duration threshold might not be met, but a housekeeper in a hotel or office building could easily encounter that level and should make sure that tasks are rotated appropriately to protect hearing. Finally, a blender can reach as high as 100 decibels. Even the most passionate smoothie enthusiast would be unlikely to use a blender for 15 minutes straight, but a barista could easily do so during a morning rush at a café. Seeking quieter models of these appliances is an important step, and wearing hearing protection such as disposable foam earplugs is a good idea, as well.
Power Tools and Vehicles
Other household items you should consider a danger to hearing emit even louder sounds. Power tools such as circular saws, band saws, and air compressors can reach beyond the 90-decibel level, making hearing protection necessary for anything more than brief use. Gas-powered tools and vehicles can pose a greater risk, including lawnmowers, leaf and snow blowers, weed whackers, and other tractors.
If your tool, device, or vehicle reaches 100 decibels of noise, like that extremely loud blender, you should not be exposed for more than 15 minutes. If you are curious about the noise output of your household items, it is possible to get an app for your smartphone to measure the volume. These apps can be unreliable, but they should give you a general sense of the sound output delivered by these items.
With this measurement as a guideline, you should be able to determine how long you can use the item, as well as what degree of protection is necessary. More powerful objects like firearms and airplanes require advanced hearing protection to avoid loss, but you should consider either disposable foam earplugs or custom-fitted hearing protection for use of household devices that are very loud, as well.
Wearing noise-cancelling earmuffs while mowing the lawn might seem like a hassle, but your future self will “thank you” for taking protective measures. If you have questions about noise-induced hearing loss or custom hearing protection, contact us today!