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Hearing Hazards in Everyday Life

Any repeated high-volume experiences or 1-shot booms could damage the delicate nerve cells of your inner ear. And once damaged, these cells don't grow back. A good rule of thumb is that damage is happening if you have to shout to be heard over the racket.

Here are some everyday activities that are possible hearing hazards.

Power tools

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has done a good job of setting safe noise levels in industry. Many people use ear protection at work. But they often aren’t as careful at home, experts say. A motorcycle, firecrackers, and small guns all produce sound between 120 and 150 decibels (dB). That is enough to damage hearing.

Guns

Shooters are exposed to very loud but short-term sound when a weapon is fired. All shooters should wear hearing protectors even when shooting small-caliber weapons such as a 22 rifle. Long and repeated exposure to noise levels at 85 dB or higher can result in hearing loss. Gun sound levels may reach 120 or greater decibels during firing. Here are some examples reported by the CDC:

  • 12-gauge shotgun. 154.6 to 162.7 dB

  • 0.45-70 rifle. 155.2 to 159.9 dB

  • 0.30-06 rifle. 158.7 to 163.1 dB

Kids' toys and portable media players

Baby toys and bike horns that are high-pitched can give off quick bursts of damaging noise when pressed or squeezed over and over again. The American Academy of Pediatricians warns parents that media players such as iPods or MP3 players can cause hearing loss. Earphones or ear buds for these items can reach a damaging noise level up to 130 dB.

Rush hour

Busy traffic and highway construction can cause ringing or a sense of fullness in the ears. These are key signs that hearing damage has happened. When highway noise gets very loud, drive with the windows up. According to the CDC, traffic sounds of 85 dB or greater for long periods of time can create lasting hearing loss.

Various sound levels in our lives (in decibels)

Compare some of these common sounds and their rank of possible harm with what your ears are open to every day:

Faint:

  • 20 dB - rustling leaves

  • 38 dB - whisper

  • 40 dB - refrigerator humming

Moderate:

  • 40 dB - quiet room

  • 50 dB - average rainfall

  • 60 dB - dishwasher, people talking

Loud:

  • 70 dB - vacuum cleaner

  • 80 dB - busy street, alarm clock

  • 88 dB - motorcycle (25 feet)

Very loud:

  • 90 dB - lawnmower, food blender

  • 100 dB - chainsaw, snowmobile

  • 110 dB - symphony orchestra

Painful:

  • 120 dB - oxygen torch

  • 130 dB - shotgun

  • 140 dB - jet plane take-off (near)

  • 150 dB - rock concert (peak)

Online Medical Reviewer: Ashutosh Kacker MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2018
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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