According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noise exposure is the second most common cause of hearing loss (aging is first). Many people participate in activities that produce harmful sound levels, such as attending loud sporting events and music concerts, and using power tools, which over time will cause hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage sensitive parts of the ear, causing hearing loss, ringing or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus), and increased sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis). Repeated exposure to loud noise over prolonged periods of times affects how well you hear later in life and how quickly you develop hearing problems, even after exposure has stopped.

decibel rangeA 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.

The following is a table of the decibel level of a number of sounds.
 
Noise Average decibels (dB)
Leaves rustling, soft music, whisper 30
Average home noise 40
Normal conversation, background music 60
Office noise, inside car at 60 mph 70
Vacuum cleaner, average radio 75
Heavy traffic, window air conditioner, noisy restaurant, power lawn mower 80–89 (sounds above 85 dB are harmful)
Subway, shouted conversation 90–95
Boom box, ATV, motorcycle 96–100
School dance 101–105
Chainsaw, leaf blower, snowmobile 106–115
Sports crowd, rock concert, loud symphony 120–129
Stock car races 130
Gun shot, siren at 100 feet 140
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 time. 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. 

Signs That Noise Is Too Loud
 
  • You have difficulty talking or hearing others talk over the sound.
  • The sound makes your ears hurt.
  • Your ears are ringing after hearing the sound.
  • Other sounds seem muffled after you leave an area where there is loud sound.
Professions Exposed to Harmful Noise:
 
  • 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
  • Military personnel
  • Police officers and firefighters
  • Musicians
If you suspect that you may have some degree of hearing loss, contact the Pennsylvania Ear Institute. Our expert audiologists will assess your hearing and make recommendations on how to address your hearing needs.