How loud is too loud?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

How loud is too loud? Probably between 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and 75 dBA, the auditory injury threshold, not the occupational noise exposure limit of 85 decibels cited in this article.

We are glad to see any publication warning about the dangers of noise and advocating use of hearing protective devices, as earplugs and earmuff hearing protectors are more broadly known, but this piece just gets the basic science wrong.

As the NIOSH Science Blog discussed in 2016, an occupational noise exposure limit is not a safe noise level for the public.

Smart phone sound level meter apps provide good to very accurate sound level measurements, but you really don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud.

If it’s loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to be heard–a typical noise level when using power equipment or tools, hair dryers, kitchen mixers, or eating in many restaurants–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is being damaged.

And certainly if the sound level is loud enough to cause momentary pain or discomfort, or subsequent muffling or sound or ringing in the ears, you are on your way to hearing loss.

It’s easy to protect your hearing for your whole life. If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Avoid loud noise or use hearing protective devices, or need hearing aids. The choice is yours.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

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