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"An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure": Ways to Protect Your Ears from Hearing Loss

Industrial workplace noises, gunfire, loud music, and other common, everyday sounds that are louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. Just how loud is 85 decibels? Take a look at these decibel ratings and permissible exposure times provided by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NIOSH/CDC.)

Intensities of Common Sounds in Decibels

Sounds Intensities Permissible exposure time
City Traffic, inside the car 85 dB 8 hours
Bull Dozer 88 dB 4 hours
Jazz Concert 91 dB 2 hours
Power Mower 94 dB 1 hour
Night Club 97 dB 30 minutes
Ambulance Siren, inside;
Driver window down
100 dB 15 minutes
Rock Concert, Leaf Blower 115 dB 30 seconds
Ambulance 125 dB
Jet from 100 feet 135 dB
Gun Shot 145 dB
12-guage Shot Gun 165 dB

For a complete listing of over 1700 noises and their corresponding decibel levels, check out the Noise Navigator at http://www.e-a-r.com/pdf/hearingcons/Noise_Nav.xls1

Occupational Noise and Hearing Protection

According to the NIOSH, approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, causing an estimated $242 million per year to be spent on worker's compensation due to hearing loss disability. As a result NIOSH recommends "all worker exposures to noise be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to minimize occupational noise induced hearing loss. NIOSH also recommends a 3 dBA exchange rate so that every increase by 3 dBA doubles the amount of the noise and halves the recommended amount of exposure time." Additionally, NIOSH recommends a hearing loss prevention program that includes the use of hearing protection devices, periodic hearing tests and education for workers along with administrative controls that include accurate record keeping, evaluations and audits.

Hunting Ear Protection

Hunting requires one to have the ability to hear very soft sounds, while still protecting the ear from the peak noise levels of a shot gun blast. Fortunately, hunters have many options for protection. Not only can they choose from custom or over-the-counter ear plugs or ear muffs, they can also choose protection devices that provide amplification while reducing the sounds of gunfire down to a safe level.

Ear Protection for Musicians

Professional musicians work in a high decibel environment in which hearing loss, tinnitus, hyper-sensitivity to sound and sound distortion can result.

Traditional earplugs will not work for the professional musician, as they reduce sound by muffling low-to-mid-range frequencies. Special musicians ear molds are available that can protect the musician's ears from loud sounds without distorting what they hear. Many products are available that will even enhance the music experience.

Benjamin Franklin got it right when he said "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Just as you would take preventative measures to protect yourself from heart disease or diabetes, it pays to protect yourself from hearing loss.

Recreational Shooters

As many as 50 percent of all recreational shooters may suffer some degree of hearing loss. It is generally thought that loud noises in excess of 90 decibels are harmful to hearing over prolonged exposure. Most gunfire exceeds 130 decibels and requires reliable, quality hearing protection. Using ear protection can prevent needless and permanent damage to hearing.

Electronic earplugs enhance the sounds around you. For example, you can hear game movement but also reduce impulse sounds such as gunfire, down to a safe level. This helps prevent damage to your hearing. Electronic earplugs are available in custom molds as well as standard, less expensive alternatives.

Law Enforcement - If you are involved in law enforcement you undoubtedly know how important your sense of hearing is to being effective on the job. You may also have experienced a situation where firing your weapon has temporarily reduced your ability to hear. And if it hasn't already happened, there may be a future situation where your partner or a member of your team will be forced to fire their weapon in close proximity or in a confined area. The potential damage to your hearing could be severe and could result in irreversible hearing loss.

Industrial Hearing Protection

Loud, constant sounds all day long at work can cause long term hearing problems. Loud, sudden noises (gunfire, industrial noises, woodworking, motorcycles, loud music, motorized lawn equipment, noisy hobbies and other noises louder than 90 db) are more damaging to hearing than regular and extended exposure to loud sounds over a period of time. When properly fitted, earplugs can significantly reduce loud noises and prevent hearing damage and loss. Hearing protectors not properly fitted to the wearer's ears do not effectively prevent damaging noises from penetrating the ear canal.


1 The Noise Navigator was developed by Elliott Berger, MS, Senior Scientist with 3M Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division.