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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.

How Loud are Noises that Cause Hearing Loss?

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.

What is a Decibel?

A decibel is a unit of sound, often used to express the noise levels of objects or environments. Sounds that are 100 decibels (dB) and over tend to be quite loud. An example of this is the jackhammer, which is 110 dB.

Protecting Your Ears from Damaging Loud Sounds

There are simple measures to prevent exposure to excessive volume.

Cover Your Ears

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.

Safe Physical Distance from Loud Noises

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.

Headphones to Reduce 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 earbuds 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.

Understand Your Noise Exposure Risk 

Age and Lifestyle Habits

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.

Occupation and Work Environment

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.

The following chart lists typical decibel levels for common noises.

Source of Noise Number of decibels (dB)
Jack Hammer from 50 feet away 95dB
Subway Train from 200 feet away 95dB
Hand Drill 98dB
Motorcycle 100dB
Rock Concert 115dB
Jet Engine from 100 feet away 140dB
Fireworks 150dB
Shotgun 170dB


Hearing Loss Prevention and Decibel Apps

There are now many apps that allow for easy and fun ways to gauge your sound environment. Purchasable through iTunes, the apps can instantly measure questionable noise levels.

Decibel 10th

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.

Too Loud?

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.

by Aaron Rodrigues