Tuesday, October 3, 2023

How Loud Sounds Can Cause Permanent Hearing Loss

Fitness classes and drinking bars play music loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss.

Loud music is a common occurrence in many gym classes, drinking bars and even some restaurants frequented by youngsters, but that can be downright dangerous for your ears.

Sound Loudness

Sound loudness is measured in decibels (dB). It is a relative and logarithmic scale.

  • Relative: The faintest sound that can be heard by the human ear is assigned 0 dB loudness. Louder sounds are measured relative to this value.
  • Logarithmic: Our ears perceive loudness on a logarithmic scale. That means the sound that is 10 dB louder is twice as loud, 20 dB louder is 2 x 2 or four times as loud, and 30 dB louder is 2 x 2 x 2 or eight times as loud.

Interestingly, a sound needs to be ten times more intense for you to hear double the loudness. So in a way, decibels reflect the increased intensity of the sound.

This also leads to a strange outcome: If a drum sound is of certain loudness, how many drums should beat simultaneously for you to hear drumbeats twice as loud? Ten!

  • Every 3 dB increase doubles the intensity of sound.
  • Every 10 dB increase doubles the perceived loudness of sound.

Exhibit 1 is a ready reckoner for Decibel Loudness Scale.

Decibel Scale
Exhibit 1. Decibel Scale. Image by brgfx on Freepik

Hearing Loss

Loud noises can damage delicate hair cells in the ear. Prolonged exposure to such noises can cause some of those cells to die leading to permanent hearing loss.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), extended exposure to sounds of 85 dB or louder can lead to permanent hearing loss.

Table 1. Maximum Exposure Duration to a Continuous Noise (dB) Before Developing Permanent Hearing Loss
Continuous Noise LevelMaximum Exposure Before Permanent Hearing Loss
85 dB8 hours
88 dB4 hours
91 dB2 hours
94 dB1 hour
97 dB30 minutes
100 dB15 minutes
103 dB7.5 minutes
106 dB≈ 4 minutes
109 dB≈ 2 minutes
112 dB≈ 1 minute
115 dB≈ 30 seconds
118 dB≈ 15 seconds
121 dB≈ 7 seconds

The more the sound intensity, the faster the damage. Sound intensity doubles every 3 dB, doubling the speed of damage.

Putting it differently, double the loudness, ten times faster is damage—not twice.

Gym Music

Fitness instructors claim that without loud music, it is less motivating for participants to do a rigorous workout. However, medical experts do not agree with that claim. Read: Extra-loud music does not inspire more intense workouts.

This hearing loss, called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), is the only type of hearing loss that is preventable. Here are some ideas to prevent NIHL in your fitness classes.

You may consider using this Sound Level Meter mobile app, developed by NIOSH, to measure ambient noise.

Use an earplug if you are going to be in a noisy environment for an extended period.

To Read More

First published on: 26th November 2021
Image Credit: Drazen Zigic on Freepik
Last Updated on: 7th July 2023


  1. In the similar lines .., I feel over use of headphones on high volumes must be giving hearing loss . I feel our ears were not designed absorb sounds from that close distance to our eardrums.., our ears and outer cartilage are designed to gather sounds from far and near and were capable of capturing even the minutes noises., give your thoughts on this, maybe you can do one video on this too


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