Learn decibel levels of common noises

Noise is everywhere.

Though some noise can be very harmful, many noises are associated with something positive. For example, for many people the sound of birds chirping marks the arrival of spring, while others may instantly associate the sound of waves crashing on a shore with the relaxing spirit of summer. But not all noises should be welcomed with open arms, especially by people who are not protecting themselves from noise.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that noise is often expressed in decibels, a unit of measurement that indicates the volume of sound. The greater the number of decibels, the louder the noise and the more harmful that noise is to a person’s ears. And no one is immune to the side effects of exposure to excessive levels of noise, which include hearing loss.

For example, the Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that one in five teenagers in the United States experience some degree of hearing loss. That’s unfortunate, as hearing loss can have negative short- and long-term consequences. For example, the HLAA reports that even mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss as much as 50 percent of classroom discussion.

The long-term consequences also are significant, especially for those who don’t seek treatment for hearing loss. According to the HLAA, people with unaided hearing loss earned an average of $20,000 less per year than people who used hearing aids or cochlear implants. Many people suffer hearing loss after attending rock concerts or special events like fireworks shows. But various other noises also can have an adverse effect on a person’s hearing. The experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that normal conversation is usually around 60 decibels.

These noises often measure at much higher decibels than normal conversation, potentially putting people’s hearing in jeopardy.

• Jet plane, siren, jackhammer: No one wants to walk past a jackhammer in use, and for good reason. Jackhammers measure at roughly 120 to 130 decibels, putting them on par with noises made by jet planes and sirens. Johns Hopkins notes that unprotected exposure to these noises can contribute to permanent hearing loss.

• Personal music players: Maximum volume on some personal music players, including smartphones, is 10 times as loud as recommended listening settings. That’s concerning for everyone, but especially for parents of young people who grew up listening to music primarily through personal music players. Decibel levels on personal music players at their loudest levels average around 110, putting them on par with chain saws and radio-controlled airplanes. Few people would put chain saws or radio-controlled airplanes directly next to their ears, and the same principle should apply when using personal music players. Exposure to noises around 110 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss.

• Motorcycle: Many people have waited next to motorcycles at stoplights. When the light turns green, the sound from motorcycles as they speed off can be especially loud, averaging about 90 decibels. That can contribute to gradual hearing loss over time. It’s important that motorcycle riders keep this in mind, especially if they don’t wear helmets or wear helmets with inadequate ear protection.

Common noises can have very harmful effects on people’s overall health. Protection against such noises can help people avoid hearing loss.

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