Latest posts by Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A (see all)
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Each and every day, our ears are constantly inundated with sounds from the environment. It is remarkable how well they continue to function with such a constant stream of information to take in, process, and understand. The very sensitive tissues and cells of the inner ear are able to sense the subtlest differences between sounds, and that ability to discern one sound from another is crucial to be able to understand speech. Take, for instance, the slight differences in pronunciation of words such as “that” and “thought”. The ears are able to sense slight differences in sound, of course with the support of visual and context clues, and then they can use those differences to make sense of audible speech. What an amazing function!
However, that same sensitivity to sound becomes a vulnerability when it comes to noise. If the ears are able to tell apart slight differences in very quiet sounds, you can imagine how they might be overwhelmed by very loud noises. Indeed, exposure to extreme, sudden noise can permanently damage hearing. If you are present during an explosion or a car accident, the sound can flood the ears with piercing decibel levels that create permanent damage. However, sudden loud sounds are not alone in the possibility for damage. Two other important sources of noise can cause lasting damage to the ears: sustained workplace noise exposure and leisure noise. Let’s consider how to monitor these two types of daily noise exposure in order to prevent hearing loss.
Understanding Decibels and Noise Exposure
Sound volumes are measured in decibels, and the decibel level of exposure is a good way to monitor the damage that sound might be causing to the ears. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that the ears can sustain sound at 70 decibels and below for a 24-hour period without damage. The sound of a shower or dishwasher is roughly 70 decibels, and you don’t need to worry about this level. However, as sound levels increase, you should limit exposure to shorter amounts of time. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that 75 decibels of sound, such as a toilet flushing or a vacuum cleaner, can only be sustained for 8 hours without damage. Although the CDC claims that up to 85 decibels of sound can be sustained without damage for 8 hours, it might be prudent to take the conservative approach to noise exposure.
Noise in the Workplace
What kind of sounds deliver 80 or 85 decibels of volume? An alarm clock or garbage disposal is said to deliver 80 decibels of sound, and a passing diesel truck or snow blower can deliver 85 decibels of sound. Although it is very unlikely to have sustained exposure to sound in these volumes, those who work in manufacturing or other industrial sites may have sustained exposure to sound at these levels. If you believe that your workplace is noisy, be sure to contact a manager or administration about your concerns. They should have protective practices in place to make sure you get breaks from noisy sound at regular intervals and that you are wearing the appropriate protection from these sounds, as well.
Noise in Everyday Activities
Another way to be exposed to regular, sustained noise is through leisure-time activities, as well. Leisure activities that produce noise include live music events, restaurants or dance clubs that play very loud music, and the use of headphones or earbuds. Though this last category of leisure noise may seem harmless, these tiny devices can emit very loud sounds directly into your inner ear where the sensitive hairs of the cochlea are located. Although a person on the other side of the headphones might hear nothing at all, that sound is being directed at your eardrums up to the maximum level of 110 decibels. As you might imagine, exposure to such loud volumes should be limited, and the amount of time permissible depends on the total level of the volume. If you are listening at maximum volume, only 15 minutes of exposure is recommended. With that in mind, keep the volume on your headphones at a lower level, particularly when using public transportation or in other loud environments. Also, limit your use in order to protect your ears far into the future.
Professional Hearing Services
At Professional Hearing Services, we provide comprehensive hearing health care, and that includes custom hearing protection. If you find yourself exposed to noisy environments on a regular basis, consider investing in custom hearing protection. Contact us today to learn more!