Many people think that most loud sounds that can cause hearing loss are found in the workplace, or at sporting events and concerts. But there are also potentially dangerous sounds in your household that can cause hearing loss. Some of them may seem innocent enough, but appearances can be deceiving.
First, let’s understand that dangerous sounds are defined by a combination of intensity and duration. Sounds of 85 dBA can cause damage after exposure for many hours. Sounds from 85-115 dBA can cause damage in less time. Sounds over 120 dBA can cause permanent damage with limited exposure, even without causing pain.
We’re all familiar with noisy appliances in the kitchen, and it is true that many can equal or exceed 85 dBA. Food processors, blenders, and garbage disposals can be noisy but are rarely used long enough to cause problems. The same can be said about your vacuum cleaner. In the bathroom, hairdryers can exceed 90 dBA, but are not used for hours at a time. But it is in the backyard, that we find our first dangerous sound:
#1 Leafblowers. Perhaps the noisiest outdoor tool, they can typically put out loud noises that range from 110-115 dBA. Hearing protection is mandatory with these annoying noise-makers, since they are typically used for more than 15 minutes at a go.
Down in the basement, hiding unobtrusively behind the menacing-looking power tools is our next dangerous sound:
#2 Hammering Nails. If done energetically enough, you can produce sound bursts of 120-140 dBA. You don’t think of wearing hearing protection with old-fashioned hand tools, but in this case, you should.
Our next dangerous sound seems fun, but beware the consequences:
#3 Popping Balloons. One of the reasons we all love balloons is because of the loud sounds they make when they are popped. Unfortunately, that sound can also be way too loud. A study at the University of Alberta, “Did You Know How Loud Balloons Can Be?” published in Canadian Audiologist, found that balloons inflated to rupture could produce a peak impulse-noise sound pressure level of approximately 168 dB SPL, louder than a 12-gauge shotgun blast.1 At your next birthday party, think about less aggressive noisemakers that won’t threaten sensitive ears.
Next up, a sound that is produced by a device that has perhaps caused the most widespread damage to the most people:
#4 Headphones and Earbuds. These ubiquitous personal entertainment accessories are easily abused. They produce sound pressure levels of 85-110 dBA, not as high as other threats, but potentially more dangerous because of the duration of use. At these levels, damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes. Both volume levels and duration should be monitored and controlled strictly. Hearing damage can come on gradually, and as you turn up the volume to compensate for your damaged hearing, even more damage occurs. These may be the most dangerous sound producers in your house.
Our last dangerous sound is even more innocent than balloons:
#5 The Squeaky Toy. Depending on the size of the “squeaker,” they can put out sounds as loud as 110-135 dBA, especially when held up to the ear. It’s OK to take your rubber ducky into the tub with you, but use it to blow bubbles, not to quack in your ears and perhaps cause permanent hearing loss.
In all these examples, of course, there is a wide range of noise production. You can get quieter appliances and quieter tools. You can be aware of the risks and how to limit your exposure. In short, avoid noises that are too loud, too close or last too long.
If you are finding it difficult to understand other people when they talk or have to turn up the volume on your entertainment more and more, have your hearing tested by a professional. Once you understand your hearing loss and all the treatments available, you can start enjoying all the sounds and conversations you’ve been missing. Rest assured, our hearing aids contain protective technology to comfortably limit the types of impulse noises mentioned above.
1. Bill Hodgetts, PhD, Dylan Scott, BSc, MSc, “Did You Know How Loud Balloons Can Be?”, Canadian Audiologist, 2016, Volume 3, Issue 6.