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Hardly a week goes by without another news story that discusses how hearing loss is a growing concern for the North American public. Some sources have gone so far as to call it an “epidemic.” An aging population of baby boomers is likely playing into these numbers in the Western world.

But another concern is just how loud and noisy our day-to-day environments have become. We’re constantly inundated with noises that to some extent, just come with the territory of living life in the modern, industrialized world. While you can’t escape it, you can reduce your exposure to it — more on that later on.

But first, to give you a sense of how harmful some fairly regular noises that we’re exposed to can be, here is a useful chart that breaks down some everyday sounds and noises… and when those can start damaging your hearing:

Weakest sound heard


Whisper Quiet Library at 6′


Normal conversation at 3′


Telephone dial tone


MP3 Player at 3/4ths Volume


City Traffic (inside car)


Train whistle at 500′, Truck Traffic


Jackhammer at 50′


Subway train at 200′


Level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss

90 – 95dB

Hand Drill


Power mower at 3′


Snowmobile, Motorcycle


MP3 Player at Full Volume


Power saw at 3′


Amplified Rock Band Practice


Pain begins


Pneumatic riveter at 4′


World Record – Stadium Crowd Noise
(Seattle Seahawks)

138 dB

Even short term exposure can cause permanent damage – Loudest recommended exposure WITH hearing protection


Jet engine at 100′


Peak Rock Music Concert

150 dB

12 Gauge Shotgun Blast


Death of hearing tissue


Loudest sound possible




Protect Your Hearing!

As you can see, there are a lot of common activities that can be problematic. Here are some simple things you can do to try and avoid damage:

  • DO NOT crank your mp3 player to the maximum volume. Ever been sitting near a person and you can make out virtually every word of the song they’re listening to? That’s probably a good sign that they have their volume too loud.
  • DO wear ear plugs if working with power tools. Same goes for attending a concert, even if it’s not a rollicking rock band you’re seeing. We often underestimate the effect that the sustained loudness is having on us, until we leave the venue and realize our ears won’t stop ringing.
  • DO NOT use cotton swabs to clean your ears. This isn’t related to environmental noise, but it’s a common thing that people do. Often, you’ll just end up pushing wax further down into your ear canal.
  • DO ask people to turn the volume down in public. Don’t worry about what people might think. If you’re at a restaurant, or somewhere like a health club, politely ask a manager if it would be possible to reduce the volume slightly. If you have to yell to be heard from the person sitting across from you, it’s probably too loud.