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Department of Audiology

Noise Pollution Q & A

How loud is too loud?
We measure sound in units called decibels or dB’s. While there are laws guiding the amount of noise a person can be exposed to in the workplace, noise is considered to be too loud if the sound is over 85 dB and hearing protection should be worn. To give you a reference, the wind in the trees can be 20 dB; a person when talking can be 55 dB. A chainsaw can be measured at 95 dB and a single handgun blast can be as much as 160 dB! As a rule of thumb, if you have to raise your voice over the noise, you should be wearing hearing protection. No person should be exposed to sounds over 120 dB for even very short periods of time without hearing protection. Levels over 120 dB can cause permanent damage even after one brief exposure.

How can I tell if I have been exposed to loud sounds?
Generally, after a loud exposure to sound you may feel as if your hearing is dulled, your ears may seem full and/or you may get tinnitus.

How can I protect myself from noise?
The best protection is to avoid exposure to any loud sounds. However, if you must, wear some form of hearing protection such as earplugs or muffs. Under the law, any person exposed to noise over a certain level on the job must have hearing protection available on site. Companies which follow these laws have noise programs that monitor the noise as well as the employees hearing on a regular basis. At home you should have a set of earplugs in your workshop or carry a set of earplugs in your jacket. If you can control the loudness or volume, like with a car stereo or personal walkman, the best approach is turn down the volume.

What about playing music on my car stereo. Can this be damaging?
Yes!!! Most certainly the noise levels obtained from most car stereos can reach levels which are damaging to your hearing, especially with the windows up. Some high end car stereos can reach levels which exceed 130-160 dB’s! Even short exposures can permanently damage your hearing. The best advice is to turn the volume down. Once your hearing is damaged (or you develop constant tinnitus) it cannot be repaired so the best action is prevention.

What can I do if I suspect a hearing loss, if I develop tinnitus or I have any questions about hearing and noise?
If you suspect that you have a hearing loss or if you have tinnitus see your family physician who can refer you to an Audiologist. An Audiologist is a professional who is trained to test your hearing and give you advice about what to do if you have a hearing loss or tinnitus as well as give advice on prevention of hearing loss, especially from noise exposure.

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Audiology Options:
What isAudiology?
Who needs an Audiologist?
Audiology Services and Programs
Your baby's Hearing can be tested at any age!
Noise Pollution Q&A
Common Questions & Answers about Balance Function Testing
Tinnitus Q&A


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