By James Pocock, Hidden Hearing
Save Your Hearing Day is all about turning the volume down so you can enjoy the everyday sounds that life and nature have to offer, which will also help you look after your hearing.
Do you know what's safe?
Most of us know that sound is measured in decibels. But what is a safe amount of decibels? And how are decibels measured?
Our hearing has such a huge range that a linear scale isn’t practical. The human ear can hear a pin drop, but also a jet engine – and everything in between! Which is why decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, a way of compacting a large numerical range.
The sound intensity doubles every 3 decibels. So if a baby crying is 110 dB, two babies crying isn’t 220 dB (that’s the launch of the Saturn V rocket!), it’s 113 dB.
An increase of 10 decibels means the sound energy is ten times as intense. For example, a baby crying (110 dB) is ten times as intense as your MP3 player at full volume (100 dB).
Anything over 85 dB could pose a danger to your hearing. So if you listen to sounds above this level for prolonged periods of time, you risk doing permanent damage which could lead to hearing loss1.
When it comes to background noise, The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) suggests that if you have to shout to someone 2 m (6 feet) away to make yourself heard over background noise, the sound level is probably dangerously high.
The 60:60 rule
Listening to loud music on headphones isn’t good for your hearing. An MP3 player at full volume is about 100 dB, equivalent to a chainsaw or a motorbike, which is above the safety threshold for your hearing.
If you’re not sure what ‘too loud’ or ‘too long’ means, just remember the 60:60 rule. Listen to music for 60 minutes at 60% of the maximum volume before taking a break.
The link between loud noise and hearing loss has be known for some time. Ear protection goes back at least to the 16th century and has often been closely tied to military advances. But even up to the early 1900s, there was a belief that tolerance to noise had to be built up2. Ear plugs have been linked to advances in weaponry and were patented in 18843 in the US, while ear defenders are thought to have been introduced during WWII4.
Unfortunately, for many of us, hearing loss is just a sign of getting older. The hair cells in our ears slowly deteriorate over time. The problem is that this decline is so gradual, many people don’t even notice it. The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that people can typically wait 10 years5 before getting their hearing checked!
Since your chances of hearing loss increase with age, the easiest way to stay on top of it is to get your hearing checked at 55, and then get it checked once a year after that.
So this Save Your Hearing Day, be sure to turn the volume down for a while.
1 – How loud is too loud? - RNID
2 – Heritage of Army Audiology and the Road Ahead: The Army Hearing Program (nih.gov)
3 – A Historical Perspective on Hearing Protection (hearingreview.com)
4 – A Historical Perspective on Hearing Protection (hearingreview.com)
5 – World report on hearing (who.int)