Whether it’s hearing the waves crash on the beach or listening to the first cries of a child, our sense of hearing is one of the most miraculous and important aspects of life. Like anything else, our hearing requires knowledge and safety to increase its average longevity and maintain the health of our auditory system. One of the most common ways someone can damage their hearing over time is through exposure to high levels of sound decibels. To avoid damaging exposure and increase the health of your hearing, find out the safe decibel levels for humans and learn to measure decibel intensity level in the average sounds around you.
How Does Hearing Work?
The process of hearing is one of the most beneficial and interesting feats in nature. Humans and animals alike avoid danger, experience the world around them, and express emotion, all through the power of the auditory system. When someone experiences hearing loss, the impact can be just as monumental.
Hearing occurs due to exposure to varying levels of sound waves caused by stimuli in our environment. Increases or decreases in frequency, velocity, or intensity levels of these waves cause different sounds to be heard. When something in nature creates a sound wave, the outer ear collects the waves as they come in contact with the ear. The outer ear then sends the waves down the canal, to the eardrum. The eardrum will vibrate as the sound waves make contact, prompting the three inner ear bones to move. These bones cause motion in the cochlea and inner ear fluid, creating sound.
How is Sound Measured?
Sound is measured in a unit called Decibels. Named after Alexander Graham Bell, this unit was created to measure the pressure or power of sound waves. Our ear can measure the tone level of a sound with the velocity and frequency of the sound wave. Increased velocity will create a higher pitched tone, while a lower velocity sound wave creates a lower-pitched tone.
High or low pitched, the decibel measures the intensity of the sound wave and the level of pressure it creates in the ear. A higher decibel indicates a higher level of pressure, or a louder sound. While we all find ourselves tempted to crank up the volume of the tv or get tickets to every rock concert, exposure to high decibel levels for long periods of time can result in damage to our hearing.
What is a Safe Decibel Level for Your Ears?
We can’t always avoid things like hearing a fire alarm go off or a blaring horn in traffic, but it is important to measure the amount of time you spend around noises with high average decibel levels. Hearing experts suggest that a decibel level of 70 dBA and below is safe for your ears, even when exposure lasts for a lengthy time period. However, studies measure that exposure to sounds with 85 dBA and above can lead to significant damage when heard repeatedly or for long periods of time.
Typical Sources of Noise and Decibel Levels
Studies suggest that as many as 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful decibel levels while at work. If a simple work day can pose a threat, how can you avoid harmful noise? Some decibel exposure is a part of everyday life, but some comes with choices you make.
Things like music from earphones, the plastic piano you bought for your child, or the car horn beside you are all higher decibel levels than recommended. Even though common, these sounds typically don’t have a long time period of exposure and don’t happen too frequently. Beyond the day-to-day, situations like concerts, sporting events, and movie theatres are places we choose to go that come with decibel level risk. At work, common exposure comes with equipment, machinery, or sirens that have vast impact.
To determine what sound exposure could be harmful around you, check out some common decibels you encounter everyday. The hearing range begins with a decibel of 0. This is the softest sound the ear is capable of hearing. Moving up the scale, the sound of average breathing comes in at a decibel of 10. Normal conversation moves up to a decibel of 60, making this range the highest that it’s still comfortable when exposure lasts for a long period. At 70 decibels, the wave range of a dishwasher is when sound intensity starts to become impactful to us. Sounds beyond this, like city traffic at 80 dBA, sporting events at 100dBA, or a firework at 140dBA become painful and can lead to hearing loss after short periods of exposure.
How to Prevent Damage to Your Hearing
Hearing loss can happen when exposure to high decibel sound waves lasts for long periods of time, however, there are ways you can mediate the intensity of the noise around you. Take an active role to protect your hearing.
Measure Decibel Level
While you probably won’t have a decibel meter with you in everyday life, there are ways you can learn to measure the level of intensity of sounds around you. The most common method is one you already employ without trying. Pain or discomfort is an easy way to indicate the intensity of decibels is too high for your ears. When a noise causes your body to react, take notice and take steps to limit your exposure level.
Simple checks can also provide valuable information about the decibel levels are you. Use real-life measurement techniques to test the exposure you’re getting to sound. For example, if you’re in an average conversation an arms length away from someone and an outside noise forces you to raise your voice to be heard, that sound is most likely above a safe decibel level.
Protect Your Ears
Protect your ears against high decibel sound waves. This can come in the form of equipment or decisions you choose to make. A quick internet search or a trip to the store is all it can take to make your ears safer. Protective equipment, like earplugs and earmuffs are easily accessible ways to lower the intensity of decibels to your hearing. Even when high decibel exposure occurs for a long time period, protective equipment will lower the risk and impact of that exposure.
In addition, the decisions you make about your hearing protection can make a big impact on your ear safety. Simple choices can worsen a risky situation or create a safe environment for your ears. When you know you will be in a high decibel situation, plan ahead with protective equipment. Invest in high-quality earmuffs if your job requires high decibel exposure or bring earplugs along with you to a sporting event. Other small choices, like sitting farther away from a speaker at a concert or setting a volume limit on your car stereo can help keep you from experiencing the impacts of hearing loss due to decibel exposure.