Keeping your hearing healthy is largely about knowing how much loud sound you’re exposed to. A ‘noise diet’ can protect your hearing from future problems. Most cases of deafness are caused by damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. This damage can be the result of too much noise, and it’s permanent. Noise-related hearing loss is usually irreversible.
It is important that we all take steps to prevent noise-related damage. The key to keeping your hearing intact is to avoid loud noise. The louder the sound, the less time you can safely listen to it. Just because a sound isn’t annoying doesn’t make it safe.
Noisy occupations, such as working in factories or on roadworks, used to be the most common cause of hearing problems. Nowadays it’s also recreational loud noise, especially from MP3 players, such as iPods, and noisy clubs and music gigs. That’s thought to be why hearing loss is increasingly affecting younger people.
ARE YOU EXPOSED TO TOO MUCH NOISE?
You can lose some hearing after being exposed to loud noise for too long, for example by standing close to speakers at a nightclub. Or hearing can be damaged after a short burst of explosive noise, such as fireworks. If you work or frequently spend time in a noisy place or listen to loud music a lot, you could be losing your hearing without even realising it.
The best way to avoid developing noise-induced hearing loss is to keep away from loud noise as much as you can. Here’s a guide to some typical noise levels (measured in decibels, or dB). The higher the number, the louder the noise. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says noise levels above 105dB can damage your hearing if endured for more than 15 minutes each week. But lower levels, such as between 85dB and 90dB can also cause permanent damage if you’re exposed to them for hours every day.
- Normal conversation: 60-65dB
- A busy street: 75-85dB
- Lawn mower/heavy traffic: 85dB
- Forklift truck: 90dB
- Hand drill: 98dB
- Heavy truck about seven metres away: 95-100dB
- Motorbikes: 100dB
- Disco/nightclub/car horn: 110dB
- MP3 player on loud: 112dB
- Chainsaw: 115-120dB
- Rock concert/ambulance siren: 120dB
HOW LOUD IS TOO LOUD?
The risk of damage to your hearing is based on two factors: how loud and for how long. Experts agree that continued exposure to noise at or above 85dB over time can cause hearing loss. You’ve been listening too loudly or for too long if you have ringing in your ears or dull hearing after listening to loud music. However, you may still be damaging your hearing even if you don’t have these symptoms.
If loud music ever causes pain in your ears, leave the room or turn it down immediately. Without noise measuring equipment it is impossible to tell what noise level you are being exposed to. So, a handy rule of thumb is that if you can’t talk to someone two metres away without shouting, the noise level could be damaging.
TOP TIPS FOR SAFER LISTENING
- Turn down the music
- Use the 60:60 rule. Listen to your music at 60% of the MP3 player’s maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Turn down the dial. Turn down the volume on your TV, radio or hi-fi a notch.
- Use earplugs when you’re listening to live music. They can reduce average sound levels by between 15 and 35 decibels.
- Don’t put up with work noise. Talk to your human resources department.
- Wear ear protectors
- Be careful in the car. Listening to music in a confined space increases the risk of hearing damage.
- Don’t listen to music too loud for too long.
- Give your ears time to recover after they’ve been exposed to loud