The word “decibel” gets used often when we speak about noise, but what does it really mean? Find out how loud everyday items really are and what sounds are safe for your ears.
Hearing Loss and Noise Exposure
A decibel is a unit of sound, often used to express the noise levels of objects or environments. Exposure to noise is a part of day-to-day living, but it can eventually lead to hearing loss if the exposure is consistent enough.
Noises at 100 decibels or more can prove dangerous if the exposure lasts for more than 15 minutes. It is important to use earplugs or take breaks when frequenting loud environments.
There are simple measures to prevent exposure to excessive volume. Covering your ears before and after a train leaves the station can spare you the brunt of the noise created when it scrapes against the tracks.
Distancing is also very useful in preventing hearing loss. Decibels are very distance-specific and avoiding close contact with loud devices or environments can minimize the side effects of noise exposure.
The types of headphones we use may also play a role in noise exposure. Dr. Nichole Sheldon, an audiologist from the Clark County School District in Nevada, notes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that ear buds take a more direct route when channeling sounds and can measure over 100 decibels.
Older styles of earphones would often fit over the top of the ear and allow a significant portion of the sound to exit through to the environment.
Adolescents from the ages of 12 to 19 have experienced an increase in reports of hearing loss, with reports growing from 14.9% in the years 1988-1994 to 19.5% in the years 2005-2006. Dr. Sheldon notes that the change in headphone styles could very well be a contributor to this trend.
The decibels you are exposed to can differ drastically depending on your occupation, as certain professions tend to rely on power tools or involve working in noisy environments such as subways. Hearing loss is most common among coal miners, construction workers, plumbers and people deployed in the army.
|Source of Noise||Number of decibels (dB)|
|Jack Hammer from 50 feet away||95dB|
|Subway Train from 200 feet away||95dB|
|Jet Engine from 100 feet away||140dB|
Hearing Loss Prevention and Decibel Apps
There are now many apps that allow for easy and fun ways to gage your sound environment. Purchasable through iTunes, the apps can instantly measure questionable noise levels.
Decibel 10th is one app that lets your iPhone detect noise levels, making it easier to gauge how long you should stay in a given environment. Other good apps for measuring sound are Too Loud?, which can be adjusted depending on what microphone your device uses, and the dB Volume Meter, which functions mainly for usage at music concerts and airports.