Monitoring Your Daily Exposure to Noise

Monitoring Your Daily Exposure to Noise

We all know that loud noise can damage our hearing. This is especially true of those of us who choose to wear protective earmuffs when mowing the lawn or wear our hearing protection when we attend a loud concert event. However, there are sounds around us everywhere which put our hearing health at risk. Damage to our ears due to loud noise is permanent so it is important to monitor our daily exposure to noise, to ensure healthier hearing for years to come—here is how!  

Understanding the recommended noise limit 

Sound is measured in decibels (dBA) and any decibel level above 85 dBA surpasses the threshold for safe listening. However, it is not just the level of exposure but the length of time exposed. For instance, it takes 8 hours of consistent exposure for damage to occur at 85 dBA. This makes working environments with shifts that are eight hours or more, a dangerous place for our ears. To protect us in the workplace, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set the safe exposure limit as eight hours of exposure to sounds below 85 dBA. However, as the level rises the time it takes for damage to occur decreases. In fact, for every increase of three decibels, the exposure time is cut in half. At 88 dBA it only takes 4 hours for damage to occur and at 91 dBA it only takes two! To better understand the risk of noise at increasing levels, the NIOSH website lays it out like this:

Time to reach 100% noise dose        Exposure level per NIOSH REL
8 hours                                                85 dB(A)
4 hours                                                88 dB(A)
2 hours                                                91 dB(A)
60 minutes                                          94 dB(A)
30 minutes                                          97 dB(A)
15 minutes                                          100 dB(A)

Knowing your risk

Most noise-related hearing damage happens gradually over time. This means that even if you are not aware that your hearing is being damaged it is slowly decreasing the levels of sounds you can hear as well as decreasing the tones and pitches you can detect. It may subtly show up in how you communicate it and not even realize it. It is also important to note that some people will be more susceptible to noise exposure due to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, or osteoporosis.  Know the status of your health and take measures to protect your hearing. The more vigilant you are the higher the success will be. 

Know safe listening practices

Our world continues to get busier and busier, in part due to expanding industry and the presence of internet and media seemingly unlimited at our fingertips. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that 1.1 billion people 12-35 years old, worldwide, are at risk for hearing loss due to exposure to noise at entertainment venues and due to use of personal headphones. This means that next time you go to a concert, a movie, or a loud sporting event take note of the noise level and come prepared. You can usually monitor the decibel level using a free app on most smartphones. However, if the noise is so loud that you feel you must shout to someone standing three feet away from you or less, then it is a good idea to put in your hearing protection.

When listening to headphones in noisy settings, the tendency is to turn up the volume to block out surrounding sounds. It is a good idea to explore the benefits of noise canceling headphones, which will limit the ambient noise so you won’t be tempted to turn up the volume to levels which can cause damage in 15 minutes or less. Here are some important tips to listening safe with headphones:

  • Keep the volume down. A rule of thumb is to listen no higher than 60 percent of the potential volume.
  • Take listening breaks. The longer we listen, the higher the risk to our ears. It is difficult to monitor how loud headphone sounds are. To stay safe take listening breaks to break up exposure time and decrease the risk of noise induced hearing loss.

Addressing hearing loss

Sometimes, despite our best attempts noise induced hearing loss happens. A sudden sound is all it takes from a backfired engine to make a significant impact on our hearing health. It’s also important to remember that we can’t take back the actions of our youth and while those days of loud music were fun, now it’s time to take responsibility for the damage you may have caused. It’s not a big deal. While hearing loss is irreversible it is easy to address with hearing aids. These digital devices can amplify the sounds you’ve lost to help keep you alert and able to connect with the people in your life. To find out more, contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.