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Loud Noise: What Is Too Much?

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Updated August 26, 2009

Noise is all around us. However, noise at certain decibel levels can cause a hearing loss. For example, frequent exposure to noise at 110 decibels or greater for more than a minute puts the listener at risk of permanent hearing loss. To put that in perspective, that could be the level emitted from:
  • a rock concert
  • a chain saw
  • a model airplane
Some particularly dangerous sounds include:
  • a firecracker (150 decibels)
  • ambulance siren; prolonged exposure (120 decibels)
  • airplane taking off; close proximity (120 decibels)

Rule of Thumb

You should not listen to anything that is at 100 decibels (a snowmobile, for example) for any more than 15 minutes without using any protection. Even sounds that are 20 or so decibels less have the potential for harm. To be safe, you should not listen to any sounds at or above 85 decibels (such as city traffic, a lawnmower) for lengthy periods of time.

Safe Levels

How loud of a sound can you listen to without using hearing protection before you risk hearing loss? Normal, everyday sounds -- in general -- tend to be just fine. These can include:

  • normal conversational voices
  • sound of a household refrigerator or a dishwasher
  • sound of a vacuum cleaner

Of course, our daily lives often involve a lot more noise than just that, particularly if you work in particular job settings.

Here are some guidelines for protecting your ears from more harmful sounds.

Sources:

How Loud is Too Loud?, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, accessed 08/16/09

Noise and Hearing Loss, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, accessed 08/16/09

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