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Sounds That Harm Hearing

Learn the surprising decibel levels of common noises in your environment and how to protect your ears

  • Istockphoto

    For Crying Out Loud!

    En español | The devil’s in the decibels: Any sound louder than 85 dB can lead to hearing loss. Continuous or oft-repeated exposure can make matters worse. Take sensible precautions — earplugs or other protection — when it comes to even the following ordinary situations.

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  • Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy

    Hairdryer: 80-100+ dB

    Do you use one daily for 10 to 20 minutes? Look for a model that’s advertised as “quiet” — which generally means around 60 dB. Choose a dryer with adjustable speeds; a slower speed makes less noise. A removable air filter lets you clean away dust and particles that make the dryer work harder and thus make more noise.

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    Garbage Truck: 85-100 dB

    Here’s hoping that the truck comes early in the morning while you’re still inside.

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    Gas Lawn Mower or Leaf Blower: 90+ dB

    Keep these chores to two hours or less at a time. Earplugs are recommended.

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    Power Tools: 100+ dB

    Operating table saws, circular saws, chain saws, jackhammers and such for more than 15 minutes can cause damage. It’s always best to wear ear protection (eye protection, too) anytime you operate power tools.

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    Elementary School: 100+ dB

    It can be fun and rewarding to volunteer, but minimize your time in the cafeteria during lunch and at crowded activities in the gym. And don’t stand right under the bells.

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    Motorboats and Motorcycles: 80-100+ dB

    There are manufacturing regulations in place to control the noise emitted by engines. But people often add devices to make sport-vehicle engines rev even louder. Bring those earplugs along. Two minutes in a speeding motorboat can be harmful.

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    Snowmobiles: 85-100 dB

    Wear in-helmet earmuffs. Cold temps can hurt your ears, too.

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    Emergency Vehicle Siren: 110-120 dB

    Cover your ears with your hands.

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    Thunderclap: 120 dB

    Where there’s thunder, there’s also lightning. Just stay inside where it’s safe.

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  • Skip Nall/Corbis

    Shotguns, Handguns, Rifles: 140-175 dB

    Wear protection for all kinds of sport or target practice. The blast from any firearm can cause immediate damage. Buy one of the various special devices made for shooters that are recommended by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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  • David Madison/Corbis

    Cockpit of a Formula One Car: 140 dB

    Think getting behind the wheel of a race car would make a fun birthday gift? You may want to reconsider. Only a few other sounds reach this range, including firearms and rocket launches. Just a spectator? Ear protection is still a must.

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    Jet Engine at 100 Feet: 140 dB

    If you’re one of those people who like to sit or park across from the airport runway and watch the jets fly overhead, wear protection.

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    Professional Fireworks Display: 150-175 dB

    Adults need to be at least 50 feet away, while children should be at least 165 feet away. (Earplugs are also recommended.) If you’re lighting the garden variety for a home celebration, follow the manufacturer’s distance instructions.

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