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Loud Sounds and Hearing Loss PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 23 September 2006 19:52

Dr. Ben KimQuestions: My husband likes to listen to loud music when driving his car. Too loud, in my opinion, when our two-year-old daughter rides with us.

How many decibels are safe to be exposed to, especially for a little child? At how many decibels does it start to be (potentially) dangerous?

Answer: In my opinion, it is our job as parents to protect our children from any preventable injuries or damage, and I am trying to make that clear to my husband. Unfortunately, he will only stop turning the music up too high if he has proof that it is too loud: meaning he wants to know the decibels.

It is estimated that 10 million Americans suffer with noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, noise is one of the most common occupational hazards today, with as many as 30 million Americans being exposed to harmful noise levels at work.

We register sound through little hairs that vibrate in our inner ears in response to different noises. When these hairs are exposed to a sudden burst of very loud noise, or to a steady stream of fairly loud noise, they can become damaged, resulting in hearing loss.

Sound pressure is measured in decibels (dB).

Hearing LossEveryday sounds and their average decibel rankings:
Very faint, rustling leaves—5
Typical speech—60
Washing machine—75
Busy city traffic—85
Hair dryer—90
Leaf blower, Rock concert, Chainsaw—110
Ambulance, Jack hammer—120
12 gauge shotgun—130
Jet plane from 100 feet—130
Fireworks, Gunshot—140

How loud is too loud?

Steady exposure to noise that reaches 85 dB can produce hearing loss. A one-time exposure to very loud noises like a gunshot at 140 dB can also cause hearing loss. The most relevant example that I found that relates to your situation is listening to a walkman at a standard volume level of 5. Doing so for 15 minutes a day is enough to cause permanent damage.

Since you probably don’t walk around with a meter that allows you to measure dB, a good rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice in order to be heard by a person who is a couple of feet away, the noise level is considered hazardous. Another practical measure is to carefully observe for ringing in your ears or if sounds feel flat or dull after leaving a noisy environment. If either of these conditions are present, you were probably ex-posed to a hazardous level of noise.

Before risking any permanent damage to your daughter’s ears, as well as to your own, I recommend that you and your husband visit the website for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at: topics/noise.

Ben Kim, D.C


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