Your ears can be damaged if you are overexposed to excessive noise—either one-time exposure to an extremely loud sound (e.g., an explosion) or regular exposure over time (e.g., Exposure to noise on the streets of New York or in the subway system underground).

This is called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Once you lose vital structures like the hair cells that send sound impulses to your brain, they cannot be repaired. So, how do you know what is just loud versus sound levels that are dangerous to your hearing?

The loudness of sound is measurable, using units called decibels (dB). A decibel unit expresses the relative intensity of sounds on a scale from zero (think a gentle breeze) to about 120 dB (think fireworks). Normal speech is typically between 50 to 60 dB.

How many decibels are too many?
An increase in decibels is a multiple of how many times a sound is intensified. For example, if a noise increases by 10 on the decibel scale it has grown 10 times more powerful.
You are surrounded by sounds of varying decibels every day, most are well below the danger level, such as office conversation or white noise from a humming air conditioner (both are about 60 dB). But, noises that are 85 dB or higher put your hearing at risk. Examples of sounds that exceed this danger level include the following:

  • Motorcycles
  • Subways
  • Gunfire
  • Airplanes
  • Fireworks
  • Jackhammers

The general rule is that the louder the sound to which you are exposed, the less time it will take before hearing loss occurs. Follow this simple advice:
Avoid noises that are too loud, too close, or last too long.

Does your job put you at high risk of hearing loss?
Some professions put you at greater risk of hearing loss than others, due to regular exposure to excessive noise. These include the following:

  • Public service (e.g., firefighting, ambulance driving)
  • Industry and factory work
  • Construction work
  • Music and entertainment
  • Military service
  • Farming

Recreational activities may also cost you your hearing if you do not take proper care to protect your ears. Examples of risky activities include the following:

  • Hunting
  • Attending concerts
  • Going to dance clubs
  • Blasting MP3 players while wearing ear buds

Unlike other forms of hearing loss, NIHL can be prevented when you learn to recognize the risks and take reasonable precautions. If you are at high risk of exposure to 85 dB or greater, review our tips for avoiding hearing.

If you are concerned damage has already been done, discuss your options for avoiding further hearing loss. Call us at 212 -585-3242 to schedule a no-obligation appointment and get your hearing assessed by a professional.