Noise Exposure: How Loud is Too Loud?

by Danielle Morgan

Choose the correct answer.

1) Which of the following has the potential to cause permanent hearing damage?
a. iPod
b. Leaf blower
c. Attending a sporting event
d. Recreational shooting
e. Both A, B, and D
f. All of the above

If you answered F, you answered correctly! The world is a busy, loud place that is full of noises that can potentially cause permanent damage to your hearing. One of the questions we get asked often as hearing care professionals is “How loud is too loud”? Before we get into that, let’s talk first about how noise causes damage in the first place.

Your inner ear is filled with thousands of tiny hair cells that are responsible for reacting to the vibrations of sound. The vibrations cause the tops of the hair cells to bend back and forth, which then creates electrical impulses that are sent to the brain through the auditory nerve. When noise is too loud, these vibrations are more forceful and can cause the hair cells to break. Once these hair cells are damaged or die, they cannot be repaired or regenerated. In cases of extremely loud sounds such as that of gunfire or an explosion, the physical force of the sound waves can also damage to middle ear structures such as the eardrum or the ossicles (the tiniest bones in your body located behind your eardrum).

Research suggests that exposure to loud sounds can cause immediate damage to the cellular structure of the inner ear and even has the capability of accelerating age-related hearing loss. Therefore, protecting your hearing and limiting exposure to these sounds early-on is crucial. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends limiting exposure once sounds reach a level of 85dB or higher. The louder the noise, the less time you can safely be exposed to it. Not sure how loud something is? There are several sound level meter apps available for download on your phone.

What can you do to protect your ears? Turn down the volume of personal music players (some allow you to even set a maximum volume limit). If you can’t avoid the environment, make sure you are prepared with hearing protection. Both muffs that go over your ears and earplugs that go in your ears are good options. If you are someone who is around noise on a constant basis you might want to consider custom-made options which can fit more comfortably because they are specially molded to your ears.

If you have any questions or would like to see one of our audiologists about hearing protection options please call 505-946-3947 for an appointment!

Resources

Kujawa, S., & Liberman, M.C. (2006). Acceleration of age-related hearing loss by early noise exposure: Evidence of a misspent youth. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(7), 2115-2123.

Kujawa S., & Liberman, M.C. (2009). Adding insult to injury: Cochlear nerve damage after “temporary” noise-induced hearing loss. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(45), 14077-14085.

CDC NIOSH Website:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/

Dangerous Decibels Website:
http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/