How Loud Is Too Loud

The world is a noisy place. From the A/C running at full blast this summer to trucks rumbling past on I-40 to people talking, our ears are bombarded with sound. It’s no wonder that 15% of Americans over 18 have experienced some hearing loss.

But where does the damage begin? How loud is too loud?

Sound in Decibels

We measure sound in decibels (dB). The higher the dB, the louder a sound is. I’ll first break up sound by decibel level to show you where hearing damage starts.

  • 30-50 dB is a soft sound
  • 50-70 dB is moderate, average, everyday noise for most people. Up to this point, the sound may be annoying. But it’s unlikely to impact your ability to hear.
  • 70-90 dB is loud. With prolonged exposure, you may experience temporary hearing loss or tinnitus. These are warning signs that spending too much time around this sound could lead to permanent hearing loss.
  • 90-120 dB is very loud. Here is where hearing loss can happen quickly — in as few as 15 minutes.
  • If you experience physical discomfort, the sound has likely reached around 120 dB. At this level, hearing loss may be instant and permanent. Get outta there!
  • If the sound is painful, it may be 130 or higher. You can expect to have severe and permanent hearing loss.

Deciding How Loud Is Too Loud

Chances are you don’t frequently measure the sound level in a room, although there is an app for that. Instead, learn to estimate how loud is too loud automatically. The closer something is to you, the louder the sound it makes will be to your ears, so even making distance between yourself and that loud thing can help save your hearing.

soft sound is barely perceptible unless you’re listening for it. Think rustling leaves, a whisper, or footsteps on a sidewalk.

moderate sound is the volume of a relaxed conversation, although people who speak in a yelling voice may exceed this regularly. If they do this often, they may have untreated hearing loss. All but the ultra-quiet dishwashers run at about this level.

A vacuum cleaner, alarm clock, or traffic on a busy street is a loud sound. These sounds can annoy but won’t typically cause damage.

Now, what’s a very loud sound?

  • Loud concert
  • The roaring crowd at Grizzlies or Tigers game
  • Earbuds at full volume
  • Lawnmower
  • Blender
  • Motorcycle

Spending more than 15 minutes around these sounds can cause permanent hearing loss. This loss will likely be gradual, so each time you expose yourself, hearing gets worse.

If a sound makes you uncomfortable, chances are you instinctively cover your ears and try to make the distance. That’s good because these kinds of sounds cause instant and permanent hearing loss. Some uncomfortable sounds include a jet plane taking off.

Painful and dangerous sounds put overwhelming pressure on your eardrum, so it will likely burst and bleed. It’s not surprising some of the sounds fall into this category if you’re standing right beside it:

  • Gunshots
  • Fireworks
  • A custom car stereo at full volume
  • Emergency sirens
  • Jackhammer

Cover your ears immediately, and get away from these sounds. If you work somewhere where the sound is regularly very loud or above, wear the recommended industrial hearing protection. If you need to communicate on the job, consider in-ear monitors.

Now you know how loud is too loud. But what if you exposed yourself to very loud sounds before you knew? It’s time to assess the damage. Contact my office to schedule a time to see me. We can develop a plan to prevent further damage and help you hear at your best.