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Ask the Expert:

​Question: How mu​ch noise does it take to cause hearing loss?

About 10 million Americans suffer from hearing loss attributable to noise. Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a single exposure to very loud sound (such as gunfire). 

It can also be caused by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time (think of factory workers). 

Damage usually happens to the microscopic hair cells found inside the cochlea.

These hair cells respond to sound vibrations and send an electrical signal to the auditory nerve. If enough of the hair cells are damaged, it can result in hearing loss and even tinnitus, which is often called “ringing in the ears.” 

Sounds at 85 decibels (dB) or more can cause permanent damage to your hearing. Common examples of this level are kitchen blenders, hairdryers, and power tools. In addition, the amount of time you listen to a sound will influence how much damage it will cause. 

The quieter the sound, the longer you can listen to it safely. In general, if a sound is loud enough that you must shout to be heard, you should probably use hearing protection. 

Many common sounds may be louder than you think: A bulldozer that is idling is loud enough at 85 dB that it can cause permanent hearing damage after only one workday (8 hours). A leaf blower or chain saw produce about 115 dB and can cause permanent damage after just 30 seconds 

A gunshot (140-180 dB, depending on weapon), can cause immediate damage.

Noise is probably the most common occupational hazard facing people today. Outside of work, many people participate in recreational activities that are noisy, such as attending musical concerts, using power tools such as chainsaws, and firing high-powered weapons. 

Avoiding loud sounds is best. If this is not possible, make sure you use hearing protection (either muffs or earplugs) to keep your ears healthy for life.

​​Marshfield Clinic provides audiology​ in a number of our centers. Your primary care doctor can refer you to the appropriate specialty and location. ​