At what decibel does hearing loss occur?

Loud noises can cause hearing loss. That’s something we’ve all said and heard it innumerable times before. It’s easy to claim a generic true fact — much like the sky is blue and water is wet — but how much do you really know about the dangers of increased decibels?

To begin, let’s understand what decibels mean. In laymen’s term, or “plain English”, when something is rated with a dB, it measures how much power or energy is carried by sound. Sound is created when our brain interprets vibrations, and dB generally measures how strong those vibrations are, how much energy is in them, and therefore how loud a sound is.

The important part to note is that decibels are on a logarithmic scale. That means, for example, 20 dB is ten times louder than 10 dB, and 30 dB is ten times louder than 20 dB; and so 30 dB is one hundred times louder than 10 dB — or the vibrations are 100 times stronger. 

That means something at 100 dB, which is a dangerously loud level, is actually One Billion times louder than something at 10 dB. 

hearing loss prevention
Loud noises -- music especially -- can lead to severe and permanent hearing loss!

What does it mean to be a billion times louder?

It may not feel or sound like something is a billion times louder when we experience noise on a daily basis, because a billion is an unimaginably big number. You might think that, for example, a hundred people snapping their fingers at the same time is 100 times louder than a single person snapping their fingers. That’s not true. The energy in the vibrations do increase, but both the concentration and duration are greatly reduced. Yes, a hundred finger-snapping or a hundred people clapping will be louder than one, but it would not be a hundred times louder.

10 dB

At 10 dB, that is the sound of you breathing. Just air softly entering and existing your nostrils. For some of us or some of our partners, that number might be just a little higher when they snore at night — but sounds at the 10 dB range do not cause any hearing damage.

20 dB

This is the average range of the sound of a secondhand ticking on your watch, if you still carry a watch in today’s digital world. 

30 dB

If someone is whispering during a movie, they’re talking to you at the range of 30 dB. Easily missible, but much more distinct than the sound of your wristwatch.

40 dB

It’s hard to imagine that 40 dB is only the sound of your refrigerator running, but at 1,000 times louder than breathing, we’re still only looking at the sound of normal household appliances humming.

loud speaker can cause hearing loss
Don't stand next to one of these! Loud speakers can and will cause permanet hearing loss!

70 dB

When you run your dishwasher or washing machine, the sound created is hovering around the 70 dB mark. You may feel that prolonged exposure is annoying or irritating, but it’s still within a safe hearing zone. Some people find noises at this level to work well as background noises as it’s loud enough to drown out distraction, but not so loud that it’s taking over your senses.

80-85 dB

Generally, 85 dB is the upper limit on how comfortable your ears will feel. This is the range of city traffic. You may find this level difficult to remain in for prolonged periods of time, but for most people and most situations you will not suffer hearing loss at this level. However, any higher and the risk of hearing loss is present.


85-90 dB.

This is the beginning of the danger zone of hearing loss, and it can be a lot more comon than you think. This is the range of gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers, gas-powered generators, and more. Damage to hearing loss is possible after only two hours of exposure. If you work closely with these items for extended periods of time, you should use a considerable level of hearing protection.

95-100 dB

So what is one billion times louder than normal breathing? You might be surprised to find out it’s actually the sound of a motorcycle, or an approaching subway train. In the same range, it’s as loud as a car horn within 16 feet or 5 meters, and the sound of certain sporting events. At best, damages to hearing is possible after 50 minutes of exposure, and at worst you may experience hearing loss in as little as 15 minutes of exposure.

100-110 dB

This is the loudest a personal hearing device can be. Your earphones, headsets, and ear pods cannot be louder than 110 dB. Hearing loss is possible in less than 5 minutes. Other sources that can also create this level of sound? A TV, radio, stereo, or even entertainment venus such as a club, bar, or music concerts if you sit hear the amplifiers. If you do attend these sort of events, it is best to bring ear protections such as ear plugs.

110-150 dB

If you are standing beside a siren, or standing too close to fire crackers and fireworks, it’s time to take a step back and put on some seriously heavy duty ear protection. Ear plugs will no longer be enough to block out the sounds at this range. Not only will you expereince pain and ear injury in this range, in less than 2 minutes of exposure you will begin to have permanent hearing loss.

Some sounds are louder than others, even if it doesn't "feel" like it.

A sudden clap in a silent room may feel louder than a loudspeaker on a busy street, but that’s not true. The way we hear is relative to the space we’re in, and that perception can change with other noises. For example, if you are on a subway platform in the heart of the city, it may not feel like the approaching train is one billion times louder than your breathing, but that is only because the sound of the subway is partially being masked by other loud noises. If you feel like something is “too loud”, trust your guts and take steps to protect your hearing — because if it feels like it’s too loud, it probably is.

If you believe you have hearing loss related to exposure to sound, the sooner you speak with one of our hearing specialists, the sooner we can provide a solution that fits your daily life.

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