The effects of noise on hearing vary among people. Some people's ears
are more sensitive to loud sounds, especially at certain frequencies. The
frequency of a sound determines how low or high a tone is. But any sound that
is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage hearing and lead to
A sound's loudness is measured in decibels (dB). Normal conversation
is about 60 dB, a lawn mower is about 90 dB, and a loud rock concert is about
120 dB. In general, sounds above 85 are harmful, depending on how long and how
often you are exposed to them and whether you wear hearing protection, such as
earplugs or earmuffs.
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As loudness increases, the amount of time you can hear the sound
before damage occurs decreases. Hearing protectors reduce the loudness of sound
reaching the ears, making it possible to listen to louder sounds for a longer
An easy way to become aware of potentially harmful noise is to pay
attention to warning signs that a sound might be damaging to your hearing. A
sound may be harmful if:
You have difficulty talking or hearing others
talk over the sound.
The sound makes your ears
Your ears are ringing after hearing the
Other sounds seem muffled after you leave an area where
there is loud sound.
Most cases of noise-induced hearing loss are caused by repeated
exposure to moderate levels of noise over many years, not by a few cases of
very loud noise. Wearing hearing protectors can help prevent damage from both
moderate and loud noise.
If your workplace has harmful noise levels, plan ahead and wear
hearing protection. People who may be regularly exposed to harmful noise
because of their jobs include:
Those who work with loud machines, vehicles, or
power tools, such as construction workers, factory workers, farmers, truck
drivers, mechanics, or airport ground crew workers.
Police officers and
Primary Medical Reviewer
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Steven T. Kmucha, MD - Otolaryngology
April 13, 2011
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
April 13, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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