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Hearing Hazards in Everyday Life

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), nearly 28 million Americans are experiencing hearing loss, and 500,000 to 750,000 suffer with severe hearing loss or deafness.

It doesn't take a thunderous rock concert to cause noise-induced hearing loss. Any repeated high-volume experiences or one-shot booms can damage the delicate nerve cells of your inner ear. And once damaged, these cells do not–we repeat, do NOT–grow back. A good rule of thumb is that damage is occurring if you have to shout to be heard over the racket.

Here are some everyday activities that carry with them possible hearing loss due to damaging noise levels. You should consider using earplugs when you engage in them.

Power tools

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has done a good job of setting safe noise levels in industry, but no such guidelines exist for at-home equipment. Although many people use ear protection at work, they often don't take the same precaution at home, experts say. A motorcycle, firecrackers, and small firearms all produce sound between 120 and 150 decibels (dB), enough to damage hearing, according to the NIDCD.

Firearms

Shooters are exposed to extremely loud but short term sound when a weapon is fired. All shooters should wear hearing protectors even when shooting small caliber weapons such as a 22 rifle. The NIDCD reports that long and repetitive exposure to noise levels at 85 dB or higher can cause noise induced hearing loss. Sound levels of firearms may reach 120 or greater decibels during firing. Here are some examples reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Toy cap gun fired near the ear, 155 dB

  • Shot gun, 160 to 170 dB

  • High powered rifle, 160 to 170 dB

  • Pistol shot, 160 to 170 dB

Kids' toys and portable media players

Shrill infant toys and bike horns can emit quick bursts of damaging noise when repeatedly pressed or squeezed. The American Academy of Pediatricians warns parents that media players–iPods, MP3 players–can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Ear phone or ear buds for these devices can reach a damaging noise level up to 130 dB.

Rush hour

Busy traffic and highway construction can cause ringing or a sense of fullness in the ears–key signs that hearing damage has occurred. When highway noise gets deafening, drive with the windows up. According to the CDC, traffic sounds of 85 dB or greater for long periods of time can create permanent hearing loss.

Various sound levels in our lives (in decibels)

Compare some of these common sounds and their rank of potential harm with what your ears are exposed to every day:

Faint:

  • 20 dB - rustling leaves

  • 38 dB - whisper

  • 40 dB - refrigerator humming

Moderate:

  • 40 dB - quiet room

  • 50 dB - moderate rainfall

  • 60 dB - dishwasher, conversation

Loud:

  • 70 dB - vacuum cleaner

  • 80 dB - busy street, alarm clock

  • 88 dB - motorcycle (25 feet)

Very loud:

  • 90 dB - lawnmower, food blender

  • 100 dB - chainsaw, snowmobile

  • 110 dB - symphony orchestra

Painful:

  • 120 dB - oxygen torch

  • 130 dB - shotgun

  • 140 dB - jet plane take-off (near)

  • 150 dB - rock concert (peak)

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