Noise Injury

We are often exposed to noise throughout everyday life that are at safe levels and don’t damage our hearing. However if exposed to harmful noise – sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time- sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged, causing noise injury.

How loud is too loud

Noise injury can be either caused by the continuous exposure to loud sound over an extended period, working in a woodworking shop. Noise injury can also be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense sound, such as an explosion. Just as sun can damage our skin the same accumulative type damage can occur to our hearing. The higher the level of sound and the longer the exposure, the more damage likely to occur.

Sound is measured in units called decibels. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, repeated or lengthy exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (approximately the level of a vacuum cleaner) can cause hearing loss.

The table below gives examples of various everyday sounds, the level our loudness (displayed in decibels), and the length of time we can safely be exposed to these sounds before permanent damage is likely to occur.

Noise Source Decibel Level How long can you listen without protection?
Jet take off 130 0 minutes
Ambulance siren 109 Less than 2 minutes
Personal music player at maximum volume 106 3.75 minutes
Pop/Rock Concert 103 7.5 minutes
Riding a Motorcycle 97 30 minutes
Using an Electric drill 94 1 hour


What are the Common Symptoms of noise injury?

  • The sounds we hear may become distorted or muffled
  • Difficult to understand other people when they talk
  • If you have noise injury you may not notice. But can be detected with a hearing test.
  • Extremely loud burst of sounds such as gunshots or explosions can rupture the eardrum or damage the bones in the middle ear. This could result in immediate hearing loss.


Can Noise Injury Be Prevented?

Noise injury is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. If you understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health, you can protect your hearing for life. Here’s how:

  • Avoid loud sounds and noise if you can.
  • Sudden, very intense sounds (e.g. gunshots) are particularly dangerous and can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss.
  • If you attend loud music events (clubs, gigs, rock concerts), put some distance between yourself and the speakers and use hearing protection (such as earplugs). Special earplugs can be made for musicians that protect the hearing while preserving the sound quality of the music.
  • Limit the time you spend in noisy places and take regular breaks in quieter areas.
  • If you use a personal music player, set the volume at a moderate level. Avoid turning up the level to try and drown out other background noise.
  • Be aware that your risk increases if you are occupationally exposed to solvents or toxins or if you are taking certain drugs.
  • Talk to your occupational health and safety officer about making your workplace quieter. Remember, it is an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment.
  • If you cannot avoid loud sound, then you should protect your ears with earplugs or ear muffs. Balls of cotton wool or paper tissue offer little protection.
  • You should give your ears frequent rest from noise.