Loud Noises: How Much Does it Take to Cause Hearing Loss?

The human body can do amazing things. It has an innate ability to adapt to changes in environmental conditions including temperature, amount of light, and more. 

However, there’s a limit.

When we expose our ears to excessive amounts of noise, our bodies cannot adapt quickly enough. 

Over time this exposure can cause permanent damage to the ears, such as sensorineural hearing loss.

But how loud is too loud? Read on to find out.

What is a sound’s decibel level and how is it  measured?

Before we talk about the different sorts of dangerous noise levels that can cause hearing loss, let’s first talk about how we measure sound.

You’ve heard of decibels, but what does that even mean?

Decibels are measured logarithmically which means that if you were to chart them out, they’d look like the top part of a c like the image below.

Humans perceive sound as a measure of intensity, so this sort of relationship works well.

What this means is that every time you go up 10dB, it is 10 times as strong as before. For example, 20 dB is 10 times as loud as 10dB and 30dB is 100 times as intense as 10dB.

When does sound become dangerous?

There are two main categories of noise pollution: continuous and intermittent. 

Continuous noise occurs when there is constant exposure to a certain type of sound. This includes things like music, television, and radio. 

Intermittent noise occurs when there is only one instance of a particular sound. Examples of intermittent noise include fireworks, car horns, and sirens.

Any sounds above 85dB can cause damage over time but as intensity ramps up and you get closer to the 115-120dB range, damage can be done immediately if you do not put on hearing protection or get away from the noise.

Dangerous Decibel Level Chart

Talking about arbitrary numbers won’t be of much use when out and about in the world. I doubt very many of us are carrying around a TK used to measure decibels.

Take a look at the chart below to get an idea of sounds that are dangerous to human hearing.

decible level chart

What’s a safe decibel level?

Sounds below 85 dB are not dangerous to human hearing though, at the higher end of that scale, they may feel extremely loud. 

If you’re curious, some example sounds from below this threshold include:

  • 60 dB - Average conversation volume
  • 50 dB - A quiet office
  • 30 dB - A library
  • 10 dB - Breathing
  • 0 dB - The threshold of human hearing

Protecting Your Hearing from Loud Noises

It also affects our cardiovascular system, causing blood pressure to rise and heart rate to increase. These symptoms can lead to more serious health concerns, such as heart attack and stroke.

There are two main ways to protect yourself from noise pollution: wearing protective equipment and reducing exposure to loud noises. Earplugs and headphones are good options for protecting your ears from loud noises. You can also reduce your exposure by moving away from noisy areas.

If you think you’re suffering from hearing loss of any level, visit a hearing care professional near you today.


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