How loud is too loud?
So, for example, 73 dBA is twice as intense as 70 dBA. However, due to the way we hear sounds, a person with normal hearing will only think a sound has doubled in loudness when it is ten times more intense. For example: 80dBA will only sound twice as loud as 70dBA despite actually having ten times as much energy!
An average conversation will reach around 60 dBA while a busy street can peak at 80 to 90 dBA. Generally, exposure to sound levels below 80dBA is unlikely to cause any hearing damage. Prolonged exposure to sounds over 80 dBA can damage your hearing and the risk increases as the sound level increases. Extremely high levels like 140 dBA noise, such as being close to an explosion, cause immediate injury to almost any unprotected ear.
As a general guide, if you have to shout to make yourself heard by someone two metres away the noise level could be dangerous.
Regular exposure to sound levels over 80 decibels (dBA) is sufficient to cause tinnitus (ringing in the head or ears). In nightclubs and at pop concerts, levels can exceed110 dBA, yet at this level the safe tolerance is under two minutes. Even classical concerts can exceed 100 dBA. For many people, tinnitus will be the first sign of damage. Research shows that around 70-80 per cent of people who regularly visit nightclubs will experience tinnitus at least temporarily. However, because we are all unique it is impossible to predict how many times an individual can withstand such temporary hearing impairment before the damage is permanent.
Due to excessive loudness in many everyday activities, it is not just music lovers who are at risk. There is also a danger of noise-induced hearing loss from such pastimes as DIY or riding a motorcycle. An American study found that those people who had activities with average noise levels above 90 dBA, increased their chance of hearing loss by 10% - see Note 1 below
There is also an increase in the noise levels experienced at the cinema. The 1998 film Godzilla peaked at a level of 118 dBA, and the trend seems set to continue - see Note 2 below.
Remember to be aware of how long you are being exposed to loud sounds. Also be aware of your environment. Listening to loud music in a confined space, such as a car, could be more damaging than in a large room, or even outdoors. Consider the potential impact of all sources of sound you are exposed to, and give your ears ample time to recover after loud noise exposure.
Maximum sound levels from common leisure activities
- Audiology 2001;40:1-9
- Hear It Org