Here's How Loud Sounds Damage Your Hearing

By Antonia Čirjak on June 1 2020 in Did You Know

Even if you do not live in the most urban areas in the world, you would probably agree that our planet has become a rather noisy place.
Even if you do not live in the most urban areas in the world, you would probably agree that our planet has become a rather noisy place.
  • If you ever wondered why all airport personnel wears protective headphones, it is because a jet plane takeoff gets really loud, and it reaches 140 dB of loudness. Follow their steps, even a one-time exposure to such a loud event can damage your hearing permanently.
  • Hair cells in your inner usually recover after a few hours of exposure to a loud event, but constant exposure will cause them to die without the ability to regenerate
  • The sounds of rain are so comforting to us because they cover all the frequencies a human ear can detect - also known as white noise.

Even if you do not live in the most urban areas in the world, you would probably agree that our planet has become a rather noisy place. The cars have only grown more powerful, and the noise their engines make has only gotten louder. The same applies for almost any kind of vehicles, planes, boats, trains, they all make loud noises as they travel, so overexposing yourself to these occurrences could potentially damage your hearing. 

The Problems Start In The Inner Ear

It is quite normal and expected that your hearing would be weaker as you grow older. However, until that happens naturally, you should take care of your ears as much as you can, and that means not exposing yourself to loud sounds and noise. When you are exposed to loud sounds for too long, you might have temporary hearing loss, but that can become permanent as well.

You experience hearing loss if the parts of your ear that are designed to transfer the information to your ear become damaged. Our inner ear, also known as the cochlea, is especially sensitive to loud sounds coming from your surroundings. Even a one-time exposure can damage your ears and your hearing beyond repair. This happens because the cells and membranes in our ears can not handle information that is too heavy on the ear for a more extended period. 

Our inner ear, also known as the cochlea, is especially sensitive to loud sounds coming from your surroundings.
Our inner ear, also known as the cochlea, is especially sensitive to loud sounds coming from your surroundings.

When you are born, your cochlea contains around 16,000 of specifically designed cells, which are called hair cells. Now, the problem with them is that you can lose up to 50% of hair cells before you start noticing issues with your hearing. Usually, when you are exposed to loud sounds when you go to a concert of your favorite band, the hair cells are under enormous stress.

The sounds coming from the loudspeakers on the stage are, and this is an audio-specific not-so-scientific term, ‘’’too hot’’ for your ears. This means that the loudness goes well above 100 dB. For comparison, a conversation between two people usually measures at around 50 dB. A regular vacuum cleaner will ramp up to about 70 dB.

Understanding Loudness

If you ever thought about why listening to falling rain can be so relaxing, there are two reasons for that. First, the rainfall (if we do not take thunderstorms into account) measure at only 50 dB. Secondly, the noise the rain creates is similar to the so-called white noise. White noise is unique because it covers all the frequencies a human ear can detect if it is perfectly healthy (20 - 20,000 hertz), and it acts as a blanket for your ears, and that is why it is soothing.

A crucial thing you need to understand is that when we talk about measuring loudness in decibels, they are expressed on a logarithmic scale, not a linear one. That means that the difference between the loudness of a rock concert (around 100 dB) and your vacuum cleaner (approximately 70 dB) is not, as you would think, only 30%. The difference is much higher.

the difference between the loudness of a rock concert (around 100 dB) and your vacuum cleaner (approximately 70 dB) is not, as you would think, only 30%. The difference is much higher.
The difference between the loudness of a rock concert (around 100 dB) and your vacuum cleaner (approximately 70 dB) is not, as you would think, only 30%. The difference is much higher.

Loudness we represent in decibels can be translated to the power ratio of a particular sound. The power ratio of your vacuum cleaner is 10,000,000, while the power ratio of loudness coming from loudspeakers at a concert is 10,000,000,000. This means that your local bend is 1,000 times louder than your vacuum cleaner, not just 30%! 

When you leave the concert venue, you will most definitely (unless you were smart and you wore earplugs) experience temporary hearing loss. This will make everything you hear in the next few hours muffled and with a specific high-frequency ‘’ring’’ to it. This happens because the hair cells in your cochlea got bent because they were exposed to loud noises. After a while, they will get back up to be straight again, and your hearing will recover. However, if the exposure were too long and even worse, if repeated for too many times, your hair cells would die. Unlike some of the other cells we have in our body, these cannot regenerate, and then we are talking about a permanent hearing loss. 

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