Stop where you are reading for a minute and just listen – what do you hear? Is it simply the twittering of soft bird sounds – or maybe the steady rush of nearby traffic? Perhaps there’s some construction noise in the distance, or a lawn mower chugging along next door.
Chances are your surroundings aren’t very quiet – or at least not as quiet as you’d like to pretend they are. Most of the world’s population is now living with significant exposure to excessive environmental noise – commonly known as noise pollution. How do you know if you are being exposed to it and what can you do to protect your hearing?
If you’re investigating noise pollution in your neighborhood, it’s important to understand how sound is measured – and when it becomes a hazard to your health. Sound is measured in decibels, which are a scale of loudness calculated by ratios. Zero-decibels represents the softest sounds perceivable by human hearing. A 10 dB increase in sound approximates a doubling in how loud it is perceived – so 95 dB is heard as being twice as loud as 85 dB.
This factor of doubling loudness makes sounds dramatically more dangerous even with just a slight increase in decibel levels. Loud sounds can cause permanent damage to the delicate nerves our ears use to detect sound, creating permanent hearing loss. Human hearing can withstand 75 dB of noise for any length of time without damage, but when you begin increasing that volume our sense of hearing becomes more vulnerable.
Working on It
An important sound threshold is 85 dB. At 85 dB, our hearing can hold out for approximately 8 hours before sustaining permanent damage. This sound level is also about the volume of a factory or warehouse floor, so workplaces that operate at 85 dB or greater are required to supply their laborers with appropriate hearing protection.
While there are protections for workers, there aren’t similar protections for environmental noise, so it’s important to know how long you can be exposed to different thresholds of sound. In places that register 95 dB, about the volume of a circular saw cutting wood, the appropriate exposure time shrinks to 1 hour. Volume reaching 105 dB, around the noise level at an average rock concert, should only be listened to for 5 minutes. Once you get louder than 115 decibels, sound is unsafe for any length of time and immediate damage and physical pain can be caused to your ears.
Know Your Noise
If you live somewhere noisy, it is a good idea to figure out just how noisy your area is. It can not only help shape how you protect yourself, it can give you some starting data if you want to make your neighborhood quieter. If you have a smart phone, there are a variety of apps that can help your device become a decibel meter. Iphone users can check out DecibelX, a free app that measures the noise around you.
Try measuring the decibel levels of your surroundings throughout the day. If levels are regularly registering above 75 dB you probably have cause for concern. Loud bursts of sound that are above 95 dB can be just as bad (and probably worse) than longer sounds of lesser volume.
A Plan of Action
If you have significant noise pollution in your area, you’ll want to protect your own hearing and work to create a better sounding place for others. Hearing loss sustained by noise exposure is creating a growing health epidemic. Hearing loss has repercussions for a person’s quality of life, mental and physical health and even their earning power, so it pays to protect your hearing and raise awareness around the issue.
Noise pollution calls for hearing protection. Use ear muffs or ear plugs when you are being exposed to dangerous noise levels. Recent studies of noise pollution show that proximity to transportation – airports, train tracks and roads create around 50% of harmful environmental noise. Noisy neighbors, appliances and construction also all factored into noise pollution.
After protecting yourself, consider forming neighborhood coalitions to reduce noisiness. Sound barriers can muffle road noise and ordinances can help maintain quiet hours where construction and other loud sounds are prohibited. A little organizing and education can go a long way into creating quieter, healthier neighborhoods.
To learn more about healthy hearing practices – which includes an annual hearing test – contact us at Fidelity Hearing Centers today.