Everyday sounds - from a person’s voice to an engine sound on a motorcycle - are measured in decibels. They are made up of power, sound pressure, and voltage.
Calculating the Strength of Sound
Sound travels through currents of energy. It’s evaluated through amplitude and frequency.
Amplitude is recorded as decibels (dB), or the measurement of forcefulness or pressure in sound. The higher amount of amplitude there is in a sound, the louder it is. In other words, it’s the volume level.
Frequency is the measurement of sound vibrations every second, and it’s recorded using hertz (Hz). It’s connected to a tone’s low or high sound. For instance, the pitch of a child’s voice is found in the high-frequency range. Hearing loss among the elderly is typically in that frequency range.
Decibels Increase Exponentially
When decibels increase by 10, that means it’s 10 times louder. When they increase by 20, that means the sound is 100 times louder.
Familiar Sounds and their Decibels
To the average person, decibel measurements can’t be easily understood unless you regularly use and are familiar with a decibel meter app.
Hearing loss can happen after frequent or prolonged exposure to at least 70 dB.
The following noises can instantly cause permanent hearing loss after one close-range exposure:
150-160 dB: After a shotgun/firearm goes off
140 dB: A jet engine as it leaves a runway/fireworks
120 dB: Concerts or the siren on an emergency vehicle
The following noises can lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) after constant, extensive exposure:
110 dB: Rock concerts
105-130 dB: Sports events (depending on the arena/stadium’s size and style)
105 dB: Using earbuds or headphones to listen to music at the highest volume
100 dB: The engine of a running motorcycle
90 dB: Using electric power tools or a gas-powered lawn mower
80-90 dB: Heavy traffic
It’s common for those with untreated mild-to-moderate hearing loss to struggle with hearing these faint sounds:
70 dB: Vacuum cleaner
60 dB: An ordinary conversation with another person
50 dB: A conversation with a group of people
20 dB: Rustling leaves
10 dB: Breathing
Hearing loss measurement is based on the minimum range of decibels to which a person can listen. Someone with normal, healthy hearing can hear rustling leaves or water dripping from a faucet and into a sink or on the ground (~10 dB). A person who has mild hearing loss cannot hear that sound.
Frequency and pitch are other elements of hearing loss. Generally, high-pitched hearing loss is more prevalent than low-pitched hearing loss. Here are some combinations of decibel and frequency loss.
10-20 dB: Normal hearing ability
25-40 dB: Mild hearing loss
40-55 dB: Moderate hearing loss
55-69 dB: Moderately severe hearing loss
70-89 dB: Severe hearing loss
90-120 dB: Profound hearing loss
Determining whether Your Surroundings are Too Loud
If you find yourself in a space that seems too noisy and are concerned about your hearing, try the following:
Take Precautions, and be Extra Cautious if You Already Experience Hearing Loss.
Hearing aid users should be mindful of the noise levels of their environments. Hearing aids amplify sounds, so you are still at risk of noise exposure. You can talk to your hearing instrument specialist about various programmed settings to use on your hearing aids when going to different environments.
Hearing aids that are switched off should not be worn to try and protect your hearing. If they do not comfortably fit in your ear canal, they cannot obstruct harmful noise levels when switched off. You just won’t be able to hear sounds that you need/want to hear.
For future events that you plan to attend, or loud activities that you plan to participate in, discuss which hearing protection would work best for you at your next hearing appointment.
If you are experiencing hearing loss, please contact us at Northumberland Hearing Center.