How much sound can your ears safely take? And for how long?

Everyday loud activities CAN permanently hurt your hearing.

Damage to your hearing can be caused by lawn equipment, power tools, concerts, sporting events, fireworks, and firearms.  A single exposure to excessive noise can also cause permanent hearing loss.

Steps to take:

  • Use a personal hearing protection device (for example, earplugs or hearing protection earmuffs)
  • Take a listening break
  • Buy quieter products
  • Distance yourself from the source

Background:

To protect the public health and welfare, in 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency determined a 24-hour exposure limit level of 70 dB would produce minimal hearing loss.  In 1999, the World Health Organization Guidelines for Community Noise concluded that a 24-hour equivalent sound level of 70 dB or below would be expected to avoid hearing impairment in 95% of people, even over a lifetime exposure.  In addition, exposure to impulse noise (abrupt high intensity sounds of short duration [e.g., whistles, horns, cannon blasts, fireworks]) should never exceed a peak sound pressure of 140 dB peak in adults, and 120 dB in children.

References:

*Sound source levels were abstracted from the Noise NavigatorTM Sound Level Database (Univ. of Michigan, Dept. of Environmental Health Science. 2015; Version 1.8).  Time duration calculations were derived from NIOSH MATLAB based modeling.

Answers:

  1. a) about 85 to 90 decibels
  2. b) between 15 to 45 minutes
  3. b) about 95 to 100 decibels
  4. c) between 1 to 5 minutes
  5. c) about 105 to 120 decibels
  6. d) between 1 to 30 seconds
Page last reviewed: October 5, 2018