Sound and Hearing


How and Why it Hurts

Our body usually feels pain when it is injured. But did you know that the ears don't often feel pain? The effects of loud sounds can be damaging to our ears without us even being aware of it. Loud sounds can cause a ringing in our ears (known as tinnitus) and can cause our ears to feel muffled. These are signs that there has been some damage to our ears.

WHAT IS NOISE EXACTLY?

Noise is sound. It can be made up of one or more sounds and is usually described as loud, harsh, deafening, and non-harmonious. Imagine an orchestra playing music together. As long as all the musicians are playing the same notes as written, the sounds they make would be in harmony and would be called music. If each musician played something different at the same time, they would be disharmonious and it would be called noise. If you've ever listened to an orchestra tuning up, or a band's sound checks, then you've heard noise.

Motorbike

Some noise, like the noise found in a factory, is unavoidable. If the noise is loud enough in a workplace setting there are regulations that the employer must follow to protect the worker's hearing. The loudness level at which hearing protection is required is 85 dB. Noise also comes from our recreational activities such as using power tools, target shooting and riding snowmobiles or motorcycles. Some people even think certain kinds of music sounds like noise! When rock-n-roll first started many older people called it noise.


HOW DOES LOUD NOISE HURT MY HEARING?

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Here is an easy way to visualize this: imagine a lawn covered in grass. Each blade of grass is like the tiny inner hair cells in your ear (in the cochlea, to be more exact). When grass is continually exposed to people walking or jumping around on it, each blade will become bent or broken. Eventually the grass is destroyed.

Our inner hair cells are similar to blades of grass. When they are bombarded by loud sounds (including music) they become distorted, bent, or broken. Once damaged, they cannot recover and new ones do not grow in their place. Once the inner hair cells are damaged they can no longer transmit sounds to the brain - the result is 'noise-induced hearing loss'.

Normal hair cells

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Damaged hair cells

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CAN LOUD MUSIC CAUSE HEARING LOSS?

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You bet! Many musicians have suffered from hearing loss due to noise exposure from music. Luckily, attitudes are changing and musicians are wearing hearing protection to save their hearing. They recognize the importance of protecting their hearing, not only for their careers but for their lives in general.


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SO HOW LONG CAN I LISTEN TO MY MUSIC?

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CAN HOBBIES OR FUN ACTIVITIES WITH LOUD EQUIPMENT OR MACHINES CAUSE HEARING LOSS?

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Yes. As mentioned above, the ears do not discriminate between the source of noise. If the noise is loud enough for long enough, then there is a high risk of permanent damage, regardless of whether the sound is from music, construction tools, guns, or machinery.

Be sure to check out our Hearing Protection page to see what options are available so you can protect your hearing.


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HOW LONG CAN I BE EXPOSED TO LOUD MUSIC OR NOISE WITHOUT CAUSING DAMAGE TO MY HEARING?

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The relationship between loudness and time is a very important one. The concept of 'noise exposure' is based on loudness (intensity) over time.

The louder a sound is, the less time you can be exposed to it without potential damage to your hearing.

You will see from the chart below that the time spent in loud noise (or listening to music cranked up) is way shorter than you might think. This is especially important if you listen to your MP3 player every day. Some teens listen to their music for several hours each day and this can add up to a lot of dangerous sound levels that your ears are subjected to.

Noise Dose
(time-weighted average for 100 % dose)
Time Allowed
(over 24-hour period)
120 dBA (pain threshold for the ear) < 10 seconds
115 dBA (sandblasting) < 30 seconds
112 dBA (personal stereos at high volume) < 1 minute
109 dBA (rock concert) < 2 minutes
106 dBA (power mower) < 4 minutes
103 dBA (motorcycle) 7.5 minutes
100 dBA (construction site) 15 minutes
97 dBA (snowmobile) 30 minutes
94 dBA (crying baby) 1 hour
91 dBA (subway) 2 hours
88 dBA (city traffic heard inside a car) 4 hours
85 dBA (loud telephone ring) 8 hours

(Recommended maximum daily noise exposure limits for workers as determined by NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)

IMPORTANT: At the loudness level of 85 dB a worker is required by law to wear hearing protection during the work shift.

As a teen, there are no 'rules' that govern how loud or how long you subject your ears to damaging noise (or music). This is why it is so important to use your good judgment to protect your ears. Remember you only have one set of ears for life!

For more information click here.


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NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS IS 100% PREVENTABLE!

You can prevent hearing loss from noise exposure by doing any of the following:

  • Turn it down
  • Walk away
  • Wear personal Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs)
  • Give your ears a rest

Become educated about noise and its damaging effects. With this knowledge you can make the best decisions about how (and how long) you listen. You can make a difference for your ears.

Back to Sound and Hearing »

What is Sound?
Sound is a vibration. When one object strikes another, a vibration is created.
How and Why it Hurts
Our body usually feels pain when it is injured. But did you know that the ears don't often feel pain?
Noise F/X: Living Loud is Hazardous
You have tons of opportunities open to you in terms of education, hobbies, and leisure activities that allow you to express yourself in individual ways.
RINGING IN YOUR EARS
Have you ever listened to loud music or noise and then noticed a ringing in your ears when you were done? The 'ringing' is called tinnitus.