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ODHHS Information
Noise and Hearing Loss
(Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ASHA)
Does Noise Cause Hearing Loss?

Yes. If you experience any or all of the following:
  • a one-time exposure to extremely loud noise,
  • repeated or long exposure to loud noise,
  • extended exposure to moderate noise,
  • you have been subjected to noise that can damage your hearing.
Noise-induced hearing loss is usually gradual and painless, but, unfortunately, permanent.

How Does Noise Cause Hearing Loss?

Your ear receives sound waves and sends them through a delicately balanced system to the brain. Part of this remarkable system is a chamber in the inner ear filed with fluid and lined with thousands of tiny hair cells. The hair cells signal the auditory nerve to send electrical impulses to the brain. The brain interprets these impulses as sound.

When you are exposed to loud or prolonged noise, the hair cells are damaged and the transmission of sound is permanently altered.

Am I Exposed To Damaging Noise?

Today, over 20 million people in the United States are exposed to environmental noise that can damage hearing. If you use stereo headsets, operate power tools for yard work, have a long daily commute in heavy traffic, or use a number of household appliances, you too may be exposed to potentially damaging noise.

Many people are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, including: firefighters, military personnel, disc jockeys, construction workers, farmers, industrial arts teachers, computer operators, factory workers, as well as cab, truck, and bus drivers, to name a few.

Exposure to damaging noise does not come only from the workplace. Recreational activities such as hunting, motorboating/water-skiing, snowmobiling, motorcycling, and exposure to rock music or the use of stereo headsets, also expose you to hazardous noise.

What Is A Dangerous Noise Level?

Both the amount of noise and the length of time you are exposed to the noise determine its ability to damage your hearing.

Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially hazardous. The noise chart below gives an idea of average decibel levels for everyday sounds around you.

140 dB = firearms, air raid siren
130 dB = jackhammer
120 dB = jet plane takeoff

Extremely Loud:
110 dB = rock music
100 dB = snowmobile, chain saw
90 dB = lawnmower
Very Loud:
80 dB = alarm clock
70 dB = busy traffic, vacuum cleaner
60 dB = conversation, dishwasher

50 dB = moderate rainfall
40 dB = quiet room
30 dB = whisper

What Are Warning Signs That Noises Around Me Are Too Loud?
  • You have to raise your voice to be heard.
  • You can´t hear someone two feet away from you.
  • Speech around you sounds muffled or dull after leaving a noisy area.
  • You have pain or ringing in your ears after exposure to noise.

What Can I Do To Protect Myself?

First, avoid loud noise whenever possible. If you cannot avoid exposure to noise:
  • Wear hearing protectors: ear plugs or earmuffs (you can probably get them from your drug store, hardware, or sporting goods store). Using cotton in your ears does not work. When using hearing protectors, you can still hear and understand voices and other sounds with ease.
  • Have your hearing tested by an audiologist.
  • Limit periods of exposure to noise; for example, if you are at a rock concert, walk out for a while -- give your ears a break.
  • Be aware of the noise in your environment and take control of it when you can. Your county may have a local noise ordinance. Find out what you can do in your community to advocate for quiet. For example, some high schools have set a decibel limit for the music played at school dances to protect the students´ hearing. An audiologist can measure sound levels at a specific location and make recommendations for keeping sound levels safe.
What Resources Are Available To Me If I Think I Have A Hearing Problem?

For an evaluation of hearing abilities, an audiologist should be contacted. When hearing loss is the result of current disease, or if a medical problem is suspected, a physician should be seen. The audiologist you select should hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). In many states a license is also required.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional and scientific society that represents 81,427 audiologists; speech-language pathologists; and speech, language and hearing scientists. ASHA´s mission is to promote the interest of its members, to provide them with the highest quality services, and to advocate for people with communication disabilities. ASHA´s Consumer Affairs Division provides an information and referral service on a broad range of speech, language and hearing disabilities for both children and adults.
For additional information on this topic or other speech, language, or hearing disabilities, contact the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852, 1-800-638-8255 or (301) 897-8682 (Voice or TTY).