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How loud does a sound have to be to cause noise-induced hearing loss?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The decibel is the unit of measurement for sounds. When you speak at a normal volume, it is around 60 decibels. A whisper measures in at around 35 decibels. When walking down a busy city street, about 85 decibels are hitting your ears. The sound of a lawnmowers measures in at about 90 decibels. Rock concerts, loud music through headphones, and gunshots are all usually over 100 decibels.

Any sound over 85 decibels can cause noise-induced hearing loss. You will have to repeatedly be around sounds that measure in at around or just above 85 to start noticing symptoms, but you can notice symptoms from sounds that have decibel ranges in the mid- to upper 100s after far fewer exposures.

Noise levels higher than 85 decibels can be hazardous to hearing and lead to noise-induced hearing loss.

To get a rough estimate of noise levels, you can use a smartphone sound level meter app. To learn more about sound measurement apps, read the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Science Blog. If any of these quick screening methods indicate that noise levels may be hazardous in a workplace, companies should conduct a complete noise survey. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.