How loud is too loud? When noise can affect your hearing

April 17, 2017 | by Siva Krishnan, MD
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Cranking up the tunes in your car on a glorious summer day (windows down, of course) is fun, right?

So is cruising on a motorcycle or blending up a smoothie in the kitchen.

But all of those activities have the potential to rob you of a very precious resource: your hearing.

Noise that’s too loud can take a toll on your hearing — permanently. Anything louder than 85 decibels could cause hearing loss.

Loud noise can decrease your ability to hear by producing sound waves that damage the delicate hair cells lining your inner ear. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers an easy explanation (as well as a noise chart). Healthy hair cells send electrical impulses to your brain, which interprets the sound. Damaged hair cells cannot send the impulse to the brain for interpretation.

In other words, you can’t hear. And there is no treatment to repair damaged hair cells in your ear.

Here’s how to tell if the noise is too loud (per the Hearing Loss Association of America):

  • You have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby
  • The noise hurts your ears
  • You develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears, even temporarily (indicates some hair cells have died)
  • You don't hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.

It’s hard to avoid damaging noise sometimes, so it’s important to take steps to protect our hearing when we anticipate loud noise.

The Centers for Disease Control offers some good tips for hearing protection:

  • Avoid noisy places whenever possible.
  • Use earplugs, protective ear muffs, or noise canceling headphones when near loud noises.
  • Keep the volume down when watching TV, listening to music, and using earbuds or headphones.
  • Ask your doctor for a hearing checkup and how to protect your hearing from loud noise.

The ear, nose and throat experts at Edward-Elmhurst Health are dedicated to caring for infants, children and adults with conditions related to the face, head and neck, including hearing loss. Learn more.

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