Harmful noise exposure is not limited to the workplace. Whether on or off duty, service members must be vigilant and careful to protect their ears and hearing from damage. Although a variety of personal, situational, and environmental factors influence a person’s noise tolerance, noise levels at or above 85 decibels, when experienced for prolonged periods of time, can cause hearing loss.
Being aware of decibel levels is an important factor in protecting your hearing. Distance from the source of the sound and duration of exposure to the sound are equally important. A good rule of thumb is to avoid noises that are too loud and too close, or that last too long.
Some common recreational activities and their POTENTIAL noise levels include:
- Motorboats: 85 – 115 decibels
- Snow mobiles: 99 decibels
- Motorcycles: 105 decibels
- Personal listening devices with headphones: 105 – 120 decibels
- Video arcades: 110 decibels
- Sporting events: 117 – 139 decibels
- Movie theaters: 118 decibels
- Health clubs and aerobic studios: 120 decibels
- Live music concerts: 120 decibels and beyond
- Firecrackers at an average distance of 10 feet: 125 – 155 decibels, and
- Gunshots: 160 – 170 decibels
Keep in mind that almost all firearms create noise levels over 140 decibels, which is far above the 85 decibels safe-threshold level and loud enough to cause permanent damage to your hearing. For example, a .22-caliber rifle can produce noise around 140 decibels, while big-bore rifles and pistols can produce sounds over 175 decibels.
Firing guns where sounds bounce off walls and other structures can make noises louder and increase the risk of hearing loss. Also, adding muzzle brakes or other modifications can make the firearm louder.
Data suggests that people who use firearms are more likely to suffer from hearing loss, if appropriate hearing protection isn’t worn. Severe hearing loss, usually in the high frequency range, can be experienced with as little as one shot.
Recreational and leisure activities can be a great source of entertainment and relaxation without being the cause of auditory injury. It’s important to wear hearing protection, especially when using firearms, attending concerts or sporting events, or being in loud environments, such as restaurants, bars, or nightclubs.