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Risk Factors Hazardous Noise Types


Dr. Kent

Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by exposure to noises that are too loud, too close, or last too long. One-time exposure to an intense, percussive sound, such as an explosion, can cause hearing loss. Continuous or repeated exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as using a personal listening device at high volume, can also lead to hearing loss.

Sound is measured in units called decibels, or dB. The greater the decibels and the nearer you are to the source, the shorter the amount of time it takes to cause hearing loss. For instance, sounds at or less than 75 decibels are unlikely to cause hearing loss, no matter how long or how often you’re exposed to them. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Immediate damage to your hearing can result from exposure to sounds above 120 decibels.

Many people work in environments with dangerously high decibel levels. Examples include working around aircraft, shooting ranges, sirens, or loud military machinery and equipment. Even classical musicians in an orchestra or the wait staff at a nightclub are at risk for hearing loss as a result of their work environment.

Hearing loss is a common occupational hazard, but there are plenty of recreational activities that produce harmful noise as well. Going to a rock concert or professional sporting event, using a personal listening device at high volume, riding a motorcycle, working with power tools, and going to a bar or nightclub are examples of potentially noise hazardous recreational activities.

Firearms, whether used for work or for recreation, produce some of the most hazardous noise levels. Gunfire from a .22 rifle, for example, is about 145 decibels. The sound produced by an M-16 reaches 160 decibels. A single shot fired near an unprotected ear can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.

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