Quick Guide to Understand Decibel Charts

Published on Oct, 13, 2020

Today’s world is full of loud sounds from people hustling and bustling all around us, from the roar of lawnmowers to the clamor of construction sites. Even your favourite hobbies may emit sounds big and strong: watching a live concert or the latest movie at the local theater; spending an afternoon at the shooting range; cheering on your team at a live sporting event.

Loud noise levels can damage your hearing, either temporarily or forever. In fact, 11 million Canadians have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)—the official term for permanent hearing loss caused from excessive noise. 

NIHL can result from brief exposure to extremely intense sound levels, or repeated exposure to loud sounds over time. This can affect only one ear, but other times it affects both. This type of hearing loss often occurs gradually over time, making it hard to detect until the damage is already done.

How do you measure sound?

Sound travels in waves. The amount of energy created by these sound waves is measured in units called decibels (dB). The lowest hearing decibel level is 0 dB, which is almost total silence, but it is the softest sound that the human ear can hear. The louder the sound, the higher the decibel number. So, just how loud is 50, 65, 75, or even 95 decibels? These benchmarks will help give you an idea

Noise measurement of common sounds:

  • Whisper: 30 dB
  • Normal conversation: 60 dB
  • Lawn mower: 90 dB
  • Movie theater: 80-100 dB
  • Live music: 100-115 dB
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At which decibel level does damage occur?

When it comes to damaging levels of sound, the magic number is 85. Researchers have found extended or repeated noise exposure to sound levels of 85 decibels or above can cause permanent hearing loss

Three main factors influence the severity of hearing damage:

  • Sound level (how loud the sound is)
  • Proximity (how close you are to the sound)
  • Time (how long you are exposed to it)

The louder the noise level, the less time it takes for the damage to take place. In fact, for every 10 decibels of noise exposure, the intensity of the sound goes up 10 times. At 85 decibels, the maximum recommended exposure time is 8 hours. But by 100 decibels, the noise exposure limit drops to 15 minutes, and at 10 decibels more (110 dB), the exposure time plummets to just one minute. Exposure to sound levels any longer than that could result in permanent hearing loss.

How should you protect your hearing?

Loud sounds are everywhere, and the damage can be permanent. The good news? This type of hearing loss is also very preventable. There are several ways you can protect yourself from the harmful effects of high noise levels.

  • Turn down the volume: Learn which sounds in your environment are too loud. For sounds that you can control, dial down the volume to a safer decibel level. Not sure how loud is too loud? There are several decibel meter apps (see below) that can provide noise measurement in your environment.
  • Walk away from loud sounds: The next best thing you can do, if you’re not able to control the volume of the sound, is to simply distance yourself from source of the sound. At concerts, this might mean moving away from the speakers. You can sit farther away from the source of fireworks during celebrations.
  • Wear hearing protection: If you’re not able to lower the volume or walk away, then wear proper hearing protection whenever you’re around damaging levels of noise. There is a huge selection of hearing protection options available today, including ear plugs, earmuffs and noise-cancelling headphones. Earplugs for musicians are specifically engineered to reduce the overall volume while retaining sound quality and clarity, as well as speech comprehension.

 

Check out different ways to protect your hearing Learn more

Decibel meter apps

We’re all very familiar with units of measurement, such as inches and pounds, but decibel levels can be harder to gauge. Luckily, a variety of decibel meter apps are available for smartphones. These apps can measure the noise levels around you to help you take educated action to protect your ears from noise-induced hearing loss.

  • NIOSH Sound Level Meter App (Free; available for iOS only): This app was developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to measure noise levels in the workplace for safety and health professionals. However, it is free and available to the general public. The app uses the phone’s built-in microphone to give you real-time noise exposure data, which you can then save and share with others. (Note: For best results, you can purchase an external, calibrated microphone)
  • Decibel X (Free with in-app purchases; available for iOS and Android): This popular and free decibel meter app turns your smartphone into a professional (and portable) sound level meter. It’s known for its accuracy, reliability and easy-to-use interface. Decibel X displays real-time sound levels both numerically (in decibels) as well as visually in beautiful wave and bar graphs. Bonus: This app is also supported by Apple Watch, so you can measure sound right from your wrist.

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