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Understanding Decibels and harmful sound levels

Understanding Decibels and harmful sound levels

Many people chalk hearing loss to old age, but the truth is that anyone of any age group can lose their ability of hearing and it’s often hard to tell, especially with little children unless you are extra vigilant. Hearing is one of the five senses that play a vital role in the way we understand and perceive the world around us as humans.

The stimuli from taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight sensing organs are relayed to different parts of the brain through different pathways. The sense of smell, for example, is sent directly to the olfactory bulb, the sense of sight is processed in the visual cortex of the occipital lobe. Your sense of touch is processed in the somatosensory cortex of the parietal lobe and taste is processed in the gustatory cortex in the parietal lobe.

How the ear works

Now, our sense of sound is processed in the auditory cortex of the temporal lobe, which is why hearing is called audition or the perception of sound that is comprised of vibrations that are perceived by various organs inside the ear. Sound travels into the ear canal first, then vibrates the eardrum and the vibrations are transferred to three bones in the middle ear known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup.

These bones further vibrate a fluid structure in the inner ear known as the cochlea, which contains small but very important hair cells whose role is to output electrical impulses when deformed to send signals through the auditory nerve in the brain, which in turn, translates these impulses into sound.

These processes are very important, because if sound can’t travel into the eardrum, to the middle ear bones, through the tiny cochlea hairs, to the brain, then there is no way for your brain to tell you that you're hearing or what the sound is.

Each cochlear hair cell has a small patch sticking out on top of it called the stereocilia and sound makes this patch rock back and forth. But if the sound is too loud, the patch can easily bend or break, which will cause the cochlear hair cell to die and once it dies, it does not regenerate or grow back.

This is why people with noise-induced hearing loss experience problems hearing high pitched things like birds chirping because the high-frequency hairs are damaged. Did you know that like dolphins and snakes, humans can also detect sound through the jaw?

Your ear is a highly specialized piece of equipment on your body and for someone who wasn’t born deaf, losing your hearing ability suddenly or gradually can manifest itself in a myriad psychological, emotional and physical health problems. Hearing loss is a hidden disability that affects you in many ways beyond having to ask someone to talk louder, repeat themselves, or having to increase the volume on TV or stereo, enough to drive those around you bonkers.

What are decibels?

By definition, a decibel is a unit used to measure the intensity of sound, and these measurements are important because they keep us informed and protect us against various levels of noise or sounds that are damaging to our hearing. Sound is measured with a device known as a decibel meter that samples and measures noise to give a readout in decibel meters or sound level meters. Decibel is abbreviated as dB, and continued exposure to noise above or louder than 85dB, which are regarded as harmful can physically damage the inner ear and result to hearing loss.

Some smartphones (Android or iOS) also come with a free dB volume meter app that measures sound levels, then alerts you when the surrounding noise is too high and harmful to the ears. On the decibel scale, the level increase of 10 means that a sound is actually 10 times more powerful. Therefore, the higher the decibel level, the louder the noise.

Someone with an acute sense hearing can perceive sounds that are lower than 10dB, which is the measurement of breathing sounds. A normal conversation measures between 40 to 60dB, even lower for someone with an uncompromised hearing ability as mentioned above. So how loud is too loud? Consider the following sound measurements:

  • Breathing sounds – 10dB
  • Whispering – 20/ 30dB
  • Normal conversation – 40db
  • Laughter – 60/65dB
  • Refrigerator humming – 40dB
  • TV or radio at medium sound – 70dB
  • Loud Stereo – 110/ 125dB
  • Vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, dishwasher, and washing machine – 70 – 80dB
  • Garbage disposal truck – 80dB
  • Lawnmower – 85/ 90db
  • Jackhammer – 100dB
  • Thunderclap – 120dB
  • Rock concert – 110/ 140dB
  • Fireworks – 145dB
  • Jet engine – 150dB
  • Threshold of pain – 120/ 130dB

These are just a few examples of various sounds and how loud they loud they are to our ears. If you have a noise measuring app on your smartphone, use it regularly, especially when you’re unsure of the noise levels in your surroundings. However, if you don’t have a measuring device, the surest way to identify harmful decibels around you is to avoid sounds that make your ears hurt or noises that leave your ears ringing such as listening to loud music through your headset.

Also, noises that make it difficult to hear someone speaking right next to you like a lawnmower or a jackhammer. Also, avoid being in surrounding areas for too long that have noises that muffle your hearing temporality once you get away such as rock concerts or a fireworks display.

By using some of the tips above, you can now be able to identify harmful decibels, around you, which is the key to avoiding noise-induced hearing loss. The idea is to either try to reduce the noise, distance yourself from the noise or use sound canceling ear protection devices that are on the market today.

Losing your hearing ability can have a tremendous impact on the quality of your life, both physically and emotionally.

It has been greatly linked to depression, loneliness, reduced job performance, and reduced physical and mental health. Don’t allow this to be your narrative, turn the noise down.