Monitoring Your Daily Exposure to Noise

Monitoring Your Daily Exposure to Noise

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA Hearing Health, Noise

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA
Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)

There are many causes of hearing loss. By far the most common cause of hearing loss is age-related, but in part, this may be due to years of unsafe listening practices. More and more, younger generations are reporting higher instances of hearing loss than before. This may be in part to a world that is growing ever noisier.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

When we are exposed to high levels of sound it can damage the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear, called stereocilia. Stereocilia are responsible for sending audio information from the inner ear to the brain where it can be processed. Statistics show about 40 million US adults aged 20-69 years have noise-induced hearing loss, making it difficult to communicate and making them less aware of their surroundings. This is in part due to louder work and home environments. While there are systems in place to protect hearing in the workplace, it is up to you to make sure to be vigilant and wear your hearing protection correctly. Even so noise exposure could occur at any point during your day, from your morning commute, to your home life and your listening practices. It is important to understand when and where your hearing is at risk so you can take proper precautions.

Understanding Decibels

Sound is measured in decibels and the higher the decibel level the louder a sound is.

It is established that you can listen safely to sound for as long as you can as long as the decibel level is below 85 dB. When the decibel level rises above 85 dB it can slowly start to damage the stereocilia in your ears, causing permanent hearing damage. It is not just the level of sound but the length. For instance, in a work environment, exposure to a decibel level of 85 dB for 8 hours or more, five days a week can cause noticeable hearing damage over a decade. As the decibel level rises, the length of time it takes to incur damage becomes shorter. For example, normal conversation is perfectly safe for your hearing health, registering on average at 60 dB. City traffic can start to damage your ears, registering on average, 90 dB. Home power equipment such as a lawnmower can easily register at 100 dB or more. This is why it is extremely common for veterans to come back from combat with hearing damage. Gunshots and explosions can easily measure between 145 and 165 decibels, taking seconds to produce serious hearing damage.

Daily Noise Exposure

A great way to monitor your hearing to determine when you need to protect your hearing is by keeping track of your daily noise exposure. This is the average noise level you hear throughout each day. You can keep track of this by combining the noise levels in your routine combined with the amount of time you spend being exposed to that sound. It is important to take note of the decibel level in your workplace but also pay attention to the other places in your routine, such as your commute to work, your home and places you regularly visit. To maintain the recommended limit to daily noise exposure, you can be exposed to sounds of 85 for 8 hours before serious damage occurs. However, even a slight rise in average decibel level can reduce safe exposure time. An exposure of 88 dB is only recommended for 4 hours. 

Measuring Decibels

The good news is that most Smartphones have a free app to accurately track the decibel level in different spaces you occupy regularly. Take note of these in the places you visit in your daily ritual to understand the risk to your ears. If you find that there are places you visit that put your hearing at risk, you can try limiting your time in those spaces or turning down the volume. If this is not an option, hearing protection can reduce the decibel level in a space by as much as 15 to 33 dB. 

Treating Hearing Loss

Noise induced hearing loss is irreversible but not untreatable. If you suspect that you have damage due to exposure to sound, the first thing to do is schedule a hearing exam. We can tell you exactly what your hearing ability is and recommend the best treatment for you and your lifestyle. Call today!