Prolonged exposure to overly loud noise or brief exposure to an extremely loud noise may damage the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss – and the loss may be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect people of any age and, it is estimated that it affects about 15 percent of Americans.
The factors which affect the likelihood of loud sounds causing noise-induced hearing loss are:
The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes to damage hearing. Any sound above 85dB can cause hearing loss after approximately eight hours of continuous exposure. However, if the noise level is 100dB, your hearing could be damaged in as little as 15 minutes. Decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale: 105 decibels is 100 times more intense than 85 decibels.
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According to the National Institutes of Health, just one minute of exposure to noises between 110-140 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss. So, which sounds could damage your hearing without you realizing?
Many mobile devices can reach 105 decibels. Fortunately, many MP3 players, cell phone, and tablets do have volume limiting controls, which enable the user to set the maximum volume to a safe level.
Sounds get louder the closer you are to the source. If you are at a concert or music festival, the nearer you are to the speakers, the greater the risk of damaging your hearing. Musicians are particularly at risk of noise-induced hearing loss and should wear ear protection whilst rehearsing and performing.
If you are using equipment such as chainsaws and nail guns – or you are in close proximity to someone using these devices, you should be aware that they can reach 110-140dB.
A recent study published in Canadian Audiologist, showed that the noise generated by bursting balloons, at its highest level, was comparable to a high-powered shotgun going off next to someone’s ear. Researchers measured the noise effects by bursting balloons three different ways: popping them with a pin, blowing them up until they ruptured and crushing them until they burst.
“It’s amazing how loud the balloons are,” says researcher and hearing expert Dylan Scott, according to the study. “Nobody would let their child shoot something that loud without hearing protection, but balloons don’t cross people’s minds.”
“It’s amazing how loud the balloons are”
The loudest bang was made by the ruptured balloon at almost 168 decibels, four decibels louder than a 12-gauge shotgun, which means that even one exposure could be considered potentially unsafe to hearing for both children and adults.
Petrol mowers and leaf-blowers, in particular, can be very noisy devices, reaching 85-100dB.
If you’ve been exposed to loud noises and you’re thinking, “is my hearing damaged?” it’s important to see a hearing care professional as soon as possible. Find a hearing care professional near you.