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Noise Induced Hearing Loss


One common cause of hearing loss is exposure to loud sounds. This can be the result of a single loud sound, like fireworks or a gun discharging near your ear. Or, more often, hearing loss can result over time from damage caused by repeated exposures to loud sounds. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing loss to occur. Without the use of hearing protection, or allowing quiet periods of rest between exposures, the risk for hearing loss increases. Even some common sounds that may not seem too loud at the time can cause hearing damage if you are around them for long periods of time.

Intensity and loudness are often used interchangeably, but when it comes to your hearing, they have very different meanings. Loudness refers to how you perceive audible sounds, and is often judged by comparing sounds to each other. Sound intensity is the amount of sound energy in a confined space and is measured in decibels (dB). The decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that loudness is not directly proportional to sound intensity. Instead, the intensity of a sound grows quickly so that a sound at 20 dB is 10 times more intense than a sound at 10 dB. Looking at this on a larger scale, the intensity of a sound at 100 dB is one billion times more powerful compared to a sound at 10 dB.

The difference between intensity and loudness is important because the risk of damaging your hearing from noise exposure increases with the sound intensity, not the loudness of the sound. If you need to raise your voice to be heard at an arm’s length, the noise level in the environment is likely above 85 dB in sound intensity and could damage your hearing over time. The picture above, shows some common sounds that you might be exposed to, and how long it is safe to be around those sounds. Starting at 85 dB, which is safe for abut 8 hours of exposure, every 5 dB increase in intensity is only safe for half as much time.

To be sure you know how much noise is in your environment, you can use a sound level meter to measure the sound in real time. There are several free smartphone apps that function as sound level meters. This allows you to see if hearing protection is needed in that environment. Check back on the blog for the second part of this series, where we discuss how to protect your hearing from damage due to noise exposure.

The only way to know for sure if you have a hearing loss due to noise exposure is to have a full hearing evaluation. Please call Evolution Hearing at our Charlottesville, VA location, 434-260-8007, at our Raleigh, NC location, 919-670-3258, or at our Richmond, VA location, 804-215-0001 to schedule an appointment today.