We live in a noisy world. From the time our alarms go off in the morning, throughout our workdays and weekends, as we go about our tasks and errands, leisure and play, until we go to bed listening to music or fall asleep watching TV, we are immersed in sound.
What most of us don’t realize is that those constant waves of sound washing over us can affect our hearing.
“The number one risk factor for all of us is exposure to noise,” says Jillian Price, chief audiologist at HearlingLife. “We’re exposing ourselves to risk just by being outside in a city — noise pollution is what’s out there.”
Indeed, the sound of ordinary road traffic alone, especially at rush hour, can exceed harmful levels, hitting as much as 80 to 90 decibels or more. Subway train noise is around 100 decibels. A jet plane reaches 120 to 140 decibels.
Most clinical experts agree that 85 decibels is a harmful threshold for human hearing. A normal speaking voice registers at around 60 decibels. While laws now regulate noisy work environments such as factories and construction sites, people’s everyday existence is full of sound that they may not even think about. For example, a common hair dryer that many people use in the morning produces 85 decibels of sound, equivalent to someone shouting in your ear, listening to a boombox or hearing a motorcycle engine rev. “That’s not something people think about,” Price says.
A quick inventory of a typical day in the city will likely reveal a soundscape that passes unnoticed by most: The loud wake-up alarm right next to your ear, the hair dryer, the blender to make a breakfast smoothie (all in the 90 decibel range) — and that’s before leaving home. Then it’s on to commuter traffic and the subway (90 to 100 decibels), the workplace (can range from the 70s to 100 decibels, depending on whether you work in an office or do physical labour), then an evening at a restaurant or bar (from 80 to 100 decibels). End the day with a concert or arena sports event and you’re awash in sound in the 120 decibel range, equivalent to a jet engine, for hours.
“If you can’t have a conversation with someone without raising your voice, you’re probably in a situation that’s too loud,” Price says. And damage is cumulative, she adds.
“Your ears need to rest. You should take a break, even if you think the sound is a safe level,” Price says.
Want to know how your hearing is standing up to your environment? Take advantage of HearingLife’s free, no-obligation hearing tests to check your hearing — even if you think it’s doing fine. HearingLife has over 200 locations across Canada.