Noise is an always present aspect of modern life, but excessive exposure to loud sounds can have detrimental effects on our hearing health.
Understanding safe noise levels and their potential impact on our auditory system is crucial in preventing hearing loss and related conditions.
This article delves into the concept of safe noise levels, the risks associated with excessive noise, and practical steps to protect our hearing.
The Decibel Scale
The intensity of sound is measured using the decibel (dB) scale. Sounds ranging from whispers to loud music can vary drastically in volume. On the decibel scale, each 10 dB increase represents a sound ten times more intense. For instance, 70 dB is ten times louder than 60 dB.
Safe Noise Levels
Safe noise levels are essential for maintaining healthy hearing. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exposure to average noise levels of no more than 70 dB over 24 hours to prevent hearing damage. Prolonged exposure to higher levels, especially at or above 85 dB, increases the risk of hearing loss.
According to Safe Work Australia, workplace noise levels should be lower than:
- 50 decibels, if your work involves high concentration or lots of conversation, and
- 70 decibels, if your work is routine, fast-paced, and demands attentiveness, and you need to have conversations.
Find out more about managing noise risk in your workplace here.
Common Noisy Environments
Various everyday environments expose us to loud sounds. Concerts, clubs, and sporting events can easily exceed safe noise limits, often surpassing 100 dB.
Additionally, construction sites, busy traffic, and even household appliances can generate continuous noise that might harm our hearing if not appropriately managed.
Risks of Excessive Noise
Exposure to loud sounds over time can cause irreversible damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
NIHL typically occurs gradually and might go unnoticed until it becomes significant.
In addition to hearing loss, excessive noise can cause tinnitus — a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears — further impacting a person's quality of life.
Protecting Your Hearing
Implementing simple preventive measures can safeguard our hearing.
- Use hearing protection: When in loud environments, wear earplugs or earmuffs to reduce the intensity of sound reaching your ears.
- Practice the 60/60 rule: Limit the use of personal audio devices to 60% of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time.
- Take breaks: If exposed to loud noises for an extended period, take regular breaks to allow your ears to recover.
- Create quiet spaces: Encourage quiet areas in your home or workplace to provide respite from continuous noise exposure.
If you run a business and are concerned about the level of noise your employees are exposed to, find out more about audiometric testing requirements here.
If you are concerned about your own hearing loss, the Australian Government has a great page on hearing loss and protection here.
Understanding safe noise levels is essential for protecting our hearing from potential harm. Excessive noise, especially above 85 dB, can lead to hearing loss and other auditory problems over time.
By adopting simple preventive measures like wearing hearing protection, limiting exposure to loud sounds, and creating quiet spaces, we can preserve our hearing health and continue to enjoy the sounds of life for years to come.