Adaptable and sensitive, our hearing system is remarkable in the fact that we can hear a whisper and withstand a loud rock concert with ease.  

But the way that our ears seamlessly transition from one auditory experience to another hides the fact that noise environments can do real harm to the healthy hearing. One of the leading causes of acquired hearing loss, loud and excessive noises can do real damage over time. As the world gets louder, it’s important to know what kinds of sounds could potentially be harmful to your hearing.

The Effects Of Volume On Hearing

Our hearing evolved in a setting very different from the one in which most of us now find ourselves. For hundreds of thousands of years before the industrial revolution and the development of machinery, the world was far more quiet. Sounds between 0 to 85 dB (decibels, the unit of measurement for sound) are within the audible range and can be safely taken in by the human ear. Most sounds louder than 85 decibels are the result of modern, human-made sources, such as automobiles, heavy machinery, or amplified music. 

The sensitive cells of the inner ear can be damaged by sounds that are beyond our safe limit. To detect low-volume sounds like the rustling of leaves (20 dB), these cells must be exceptionally sensitive. The cells in the inner ear take in environmental noise and interpret it as sound information then sent to the brain’s processing centers, which receive this hearing data via the auditory nerve. The entire symphony of this experience takes place instantaneously and without our conscious direction. 

When cells in the inner ear are injured, usually due to aging and exposure to excessive noise, they degenerate and stop repairing or reproducing. Instead, they decrease in number and we begin to lack the resources to fully process the sounds around us. Since our ears aren’t receiving as much information, we hear less. 

Safe Volumes Vs. Dangerous Decibels

We’ve established that human hearing can safely withstand sounds up to 85 dB without risking hearing health. As volume increases, our safety window closes because of the correlation between exposure time and acoustic stress. The recommended exposure time to sounds above 85 dB is fewer than eight hours. 

Our threshold for sound diminishes drastically with increasing volume. Exposure to noises above 100 decibels (such as those produced by factory machines or people shouting) should be kept to less than 15 minutes.

Extremely loud noises can cause immediate and irreversible harm, like the noise level of an accident or explosion. Falling between a range of 120 and 150 dB, the loss of hearing that results is usually immediately apparent.

Signs Of Hearing Loss Due To Loud Noises

The symptoms of gradual, noise-induced hearing loss are more difficult to detect. When inner ear cells begin to die off, one of the first signs is a loss of speech clarity since higher frequencies are the first to go. Everyone will start sounding like they’re mumbling. Without the visual clues of facial expressions to help suss out the meaning, having a conversation over the phone may be especially challenging and frustrating. 

It’s possible for the process to be so subtle that we won’t even notice a difference in our hearing. We carry on as usual, sometimes isolating ourselves from others as a means of coping. Instead, it is usually those closest to us that observe changes in behavior in order to identify hearing loss.

Take Precautions To Prevent Hearing Loss

We aren’t the first generation to pay attention to our soundscapes. Even early Romans hung tapestries and other sound barriers to make their homes and public spaces more peaceful. 

Take a page out of their book by monitoring your listening environments, turning down volumes when possible, and taking quiet periods in particularly noisy situations can all assist to protect your hearing in today’s loud world. Hearing protection, such as custom earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, is another option.

Hearing Loss Is Highly Treatable

If you’re worried about the effects of noise on your hearing health, settle your anxieties today by scheduling a hearing consultation. We’ll look into your hearing realities and possibilities together and get you back on track to a better listening life.