The effects of noise on hearing vary among people. Some people's ears
are more sensitive to loud sounds, especially at certain frequencies. (Frequency means how low or high a tone is.) But any sound that
is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage hearing and lead to
A 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.
Following is a table of the decibel level of a number of
Average decibels (dB)
Leaves rustling, soft music, whisper
Average home noise
Normal conversation, background music
Office noise, inside car at 60 mph
Vacuum cleaner, average radio
Heavy traffic, window air conditioner,
noisy restaurant, power lawn mower
80–89 (sounds above 85 dB are harmful)
Subway, shouted conversation
Boom box, ATV, motorcycle
Chainsaw, leaf blower, snowmobile
Sports crowd, rock concert, loud
Stock car races
Gun shot, siren at 100 feet
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
Preventing damage to your hearing
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. A
sound may be harmful if:
You have difficulty talking or hearing others
talk over the sound.
The sound makes your ears
Your ears are ringing after hearing the
Other sounds seem muffled after you leave an area where
there is loud sound.
Most cases of noise-induced hearing loss are caused by repeated
exposure to moderate levels of noise over many years, not by a few cases of
very loud noise. Wearing hearing protectors can help prevent damage from both
moderate and loud noise.
If your workplace has harmful noise levels, plan ahead and wear
hearing protection. People who may be regularly exposed to harmful noise
because of their jobs include:
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.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.