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Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by overexposure to loud sounds. In some cases, the damage is only temporary. But repeated exposure to excessive noise for long periods of time can cause permanent damage. So can a single exposure to an intense sound close to the ear, like a gun shot.
Until recently, noise-induced hearing loss was linked mainly to excessive noise in the workplace. Some newer studies suggest that many teenagers and young adults have experienced permanent hearing loss caused by over-exposure to loud noise from a variety of everyday activities.
Scientists measure the levels of different sounds with a unit called the A-weighted decibel (dBA).
Sounds with levels below 70 dBA pose no known risk of hearing loss, no matter how long you listen. This is roughly what you would hear if you were driving alone at highway speeds in a family car, with the windows up and the radio off.
When sound levels increase, the daily listening time becomes an important risk factor for hearing loss. In general, the louder the sound, the less time it takes to pose risks to your hearing.
|Due to the noise around you:||Means the sound levels are probably:||Means you're at significant risk of permanent hearing loss if exposed daily for:|
|someone standing a metre away has to shout to be understood||higher than 85 dBA||8 hours or more|
|someone standing 30 cm away has to shout to be understood||higher than 95 dBA||45 minutes or more|
|someone has to shout into your ear to be understood||higher than 105 dBA||5 minutes or more|
The sounds around you may also pose a risk of gradual, noise-induced hearing loss if you experience either of these signs after a loud noise has stopped:
It's been found that a variety of everyday activities can cause exposure to sound levels above 85 dBA. A few examples are:
All of these activities pose a potential risk of a gradual, noise-induced hearing loss, depending on:
But there's more to the story. Exposure to noise adds up. So to get a sense of the risk, you have to consider all of the noise you are exposed to on a given day.
Let's say you listen to your personal stereo system for 1 hour during the day at 93 dBA. Then later that night, without hearing protectors you spend just 10 minutes using a table saw at 100 dBA. Each activity, on its own, is not quite enough to cause a significant risk of a gradual, permanent noise-induced hearing loss, but on the same day, your total exposure crosses that threshold.
If you use firearms regularly for hunting or target practice, without the appropriate hearing protection, you are at increased risk for permanent hearing loss, whether gradual or immediate. An intense sound close to the ear from a rifle, cap gun, or firecracker, can cause immediate and severe hearing loss that may be permanent. If you are exposed to a sound like this, stay in a relatively quiet place for 24 hours to rest your ears. If your hearing hasn't recovered fully after a day, contact your doctor in case you need a test or an examination.
Take the following steps to protect your hearing:
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your hearing. Early signs of hearing loss include:
Prevention is the only way to protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss. There is no way to know how sensitive your ears are to damage from sounds, until the damage is done.
Health Canada helps Canadians avoid hearing loss from exposure to excessive noise at work, at home, and at play. As part of this work, we:
We also develop regulations, if deemed necessary, to protect Canadians from excessive noise. One example is the Toys Regulations under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. The regulations say that no children's toy, as ordinarily used, should produce sound levels above 100 decibels.
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*
Updated: December 2012
Original: July 2002
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2012
Catalogue # H13-7/128-2012E-PDF
ISBN # 978-1-100-21397-2