Nowadays, you often see young and middle-aged people in the streets with plugged ears and dangling wires connected to their I-pods that are kept somewhere in their jeans... or students inside Internet cafes with headsets playing their favorite games… or young professionals and ordinary workers relaxing after a hard day’s work in bars, discos or beerhouses enjoying loud music. They may not be aware of it but music, sounds and other loud noises pose a serious threat to hearing, health and quality of life. Initial exposure to loud noises may cause temporary hearing loss with a great chance of recovery once the exposure is terminated. However, anatomic damage may occur with continuous exposure and hearing loss may be deemed permanent.
Aside from hearing loss, studies have shown that exposure to noise may lead to other health problems such as sleep disturbance, change in heart rate and blood pressure, indigestion, and change in behavior. Noise also negatively affects work efficiency, is a serious obstacle to learning and cognitive development in children, and causes hearing difficulties leading to communication problems among the elderly.
Once hearing loss has set in, no treatment is available.
How Loud is Too Loud
In order to know if a sound is loud enough to cause damage to the ears, it is important to know both the level of intensity and the length of exposure to the sound. The unit used to measure environmental sound intensity is a decibel. In general, the louder the sound, the quicker hearing is affected.
The accepted harmful level of noise is 85 decibel for 8 hours; less than 100 decibel at two hours; less than 105 decibels at one hour; and less than 115 decibels at 15 minutes.
Studies have shown that noise levels during heavy traffic can be as high as 90 decibels. Construction workers with jackhammer are exposed to noise levels up to 100 decibels, while those riding a motorcycle at 110 decibels. Meanwhile, levels at video arcades range from 90 to 110 decibels.
Sound levels at live music concerts can be measured at 120 decibels and beyond. Sitting closer to the speakers will create an even greater risk. Discos, dance clubs, personal headsets audio systems from car stereos reach measurements also at these dangerous levels.
The noise level of gunshots can be measured at 150 decibels. Hearing loss can result from just a few shots of a high-powered gun if appropriate hearing protection is not worn.
Many toys designed to stimulate children can be dangerously loud. Certain rattles and squeaky toys are measured at sound levels as high as 110 decibels. For the infant or child who most typically listen to these toys close to their sensitive ear, the risk is even greater.
Musical toys, toys producing firearms or toy phones can produce sounds as loud as 120 – 150 decibels. According to studies, noise can affect the temperament and social interactions of children.
As a rule of thumb, if a person has to shout in order to be heard three feet away, then the environmental noise is probably too loud and could be damaging to one’s hearing. In these instances, hearing protection is recommended.
Sound of Silence
Try experiencing the wonderful sound of silence and imagine the impact noise has on hearing and health.