What You Can do to Protect Yourself

The unit of measure for sound is decibels.

We live in a world of excessive sound. Avoiding excessive sound is the best preventive action that you can take. We know that in most cases, the tiny and extremely sensitive organ in the inner ear called the cochlea can be easily damaged by too much sound, either over a period of years or by a single a loud explosion.

Important points to remember:

1. Any sound above 85 dB can cause hearing loss - it is present when you need to raise your voice to be heard by someone else.
2. Eight hours of 85 dB sound can cause permanent damage.
3. Any exposure to 140 dB can cause immediate damage.

The following apply while standing "near the sound":

  • Near total silence - o dB
  • Whisper - 15 dB
  • Normal conversation - 60 dB
  • Lawnmower - 90 dB
  • Car horn - 110 dB
  • Rock concert/ jet engine - 120 dB
  • Gunshot/firecracker - 140 dB

There are only two ways to prevent being exposed to excessive sound - avoidance and the use of hearing protection. Avoidance means simply not attending loud concerts, turning down the MP3 player, staying away from loud nightclubs, fireworks and firearms. Hearing protection can take the form of ear plugs and ear muffs. These vary in quality and effectiveness but many now have a rating on the amount of decibels they prevent from entering the ears. Bear in mind, this is not the amount of sound that they allow through; it is the amount of sound that is prevented from passing through (typically about 25 decibels). One advantage of the ear plugs is that they are somewhat adjustable - you can allow more sound to enter the ear canal by not inserting them as far. However, quality ear muffs may be more effective when you expect to be in a loud area for any significant length of time.

Always use hearing protection when operating loud equipment (any power equipment outdoors, generators, production equipment, etc.), when exposed to the firing of any firearms, when working in close proximity with smoke detectors and alarms or whenever you are at risk for exposure to loud noise. Take care of your hearing as you would your eyesight; both are precious senses that can be all too easily damaged with potentially tragic results.