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 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.
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 Level||Maximum Exposure Before Permanent Hearing Loss|
|85 dB||8 hours|
|88 dB||4 hours|
|91 dB||2 hours|
|94 dB||1 hour|
|97 dB||30 minutes|
|100 dB||15 minutes|
|103 dB||7.5 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.
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
- CDC: What Noises Cause Hearing Loss?
- DecibelPro App: Comprehensive Decibel Chart of Common Sound Sources
- Hearing Health Foundation: Decibel Levels
First published on: 26th November 2021
Image Credit: Drazen Zigic on Freepik
Last Updated on: 7th July 2023