Department of Audiology
Noise Pollution Q & A
How loud is too loud?
We measure sound in units called decibels
or dBs. 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 dBs! 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
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.