Hearing protection tips

We live in a noisy world. Many of us work in a noisy place. Some of us have noisy hobbies such as hunting, or maybe we do a lot of working with power tools. Oftentimes, we don't realize the damage that some of these noises can do to our hearing.

Did you know that excessive noise exposure is one of the most common causes of hearing loss? And, unlike other forms of hearing loss, noise damage can be prevented by taking a few simple precautions.

How Loud is Too Loud?

The rapidity of hearing damage depends on the intensity (loudness) of the sound, how long you are exposed to the sound and how often exposure occurs. A simple rule of thumb to remember:

  • If you need to shout in order to be heard by someone standing three feet away, the noise level is probably reaching dangerously high intensity levels. At this point, it is important to take precautions.

Use the following rules regarding decibel levels and exposure to evaluate potentially dangerous situations:

  • Noises between 85-90 decibels, such as lawn mowers, hair dryers, noisy household appliances (such as vacuum cleaners) or even some motorcycles or recreation vehicles are dangerous if you are exposed to them for more than eight hours

  • Two hours of exposure to 100-decibel noise such as chainsaws is dangerous; and with each five-decibel increase, the "safe time" is cut in half

  • Sounds of 120 decibels (thunder, ambulance sirens, rock concerts at which you are directly in front of the speakers) are immediately dangerous to your ears

  • Shotgun blasts and airplane take-offs register at 140 decibels and are immediately dangerous, and can also cause immediate pain within the ear

How do I know if I have done damage to my ears?

If sounds seem muffled or you notice a ringing in your ears after noise exposure, this is a sign that your ears have been exposed to a sound that is too loud. You may be experiencing a temporary threshold shift of your hearing. With repeated exposure to loud sounds, this can become a permanent hearing loss.

What can I do to protect my hearing?

Use hearing protection when exposed to loud noise. Earplugs are easy to use and inexpensive. They can be purchased at almost any drugstore for only a few dollars. It is a small price to pay for a lifetime of better hearing.

Custom-made hearing protection can also be ordered through an audiologist. If you are a musician or attend many concerts, musician's earplugs are available. Special earplugs can be made for hunters, dentists, even motorcycle enthusiasts. Also, remember to turn down the volume on televisions, radios and personal stereos.

More information on hearing protection is available from the audiologists one of our UW Health clinics.