Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the result of tiny sensory hair cells in the inner ears being damaged by noises that are too loud and last for too long. NIHL is related to both the decibel level of a sound and the duration one is exposed to it. Distance plays a role as well.
So, what exactly is a decibel? A decibel is the intensity, or loudness, of a sound. Decibel levels begin at zero (near total silence) and increase by a factor of 10. This means that sounds that are 10 times more intense than near silence are 10 decibels. At close range, sounds that reach 120 decibels (about the sound of an ambulance siren) are painful to our ears. To put this in perspective check out this decibel scale:
Researchers have found that a person who is exposed to noise levels at 85 decibels, or higher, for an extended period of time are at risk for hearing loss. Scientists believe that sounds at 100 decibels can cause damage after only 15 minutes.
If you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone standing right by you, your ears are hurting, a buzzing or ringing sound develops in your ears, or you’re not hearing as you normally would until several hours after the noise exposure then you know the noise is too loud! To protect yourself from noise and hearing loss there are some simple steps you can practice in everyday life:
Sources: NIDCD, Hyperacusis Network