Sound Exposure and Potential Hearing Loss

Recently, there was a post on the ICSOM board that I thought I would share the info from. ICSOM is the International Congress of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which consists of the musicians of the major US and some international orchestras.

The topic was How long can a person endure a certain noise level before hearing impairment occurs. As you can imagine, this is a fairly hot topic among symphonic musicians the world over, as it has been proven that we will lose at least 20% of our hearing over the course of our careers. I think audiophiles will also be very interested in the following stats, especially those of you who like to listen very loudly for long periods.

What follows are the current standards for recommended permissible exposure duration for continuous time weighted average noise, according to NIOSH and CDC. Keep in mind this is an average level for continuous exposure, and these numbers may not represent a world wide view of the subject. Basically, for every 3dB beyond 82dB, the permissible exposure time is cut in half before hearing damage will occur.

82dB - 16 hours
85dB - 8 hours
88dB - 4 hours
91dB - 2 hours
94dB - 1 hour
97dB - 30 minutes
100dB - 15 minutes
103dB - 7.5 minutes
106dB - less than 4 minutes
109dB - less than 2 minutes
112dB - less than 1 minute
115dB - less than 30 seconds

Very interesting. Found some info. relative to the levels you have, thought it would be interesting to share.

Sound    Example
dB SPL  
140 Gunshot at close range
120 Loud rock show
100 Shouting at close range
80 Busy city street
70 Normal conversation
50 Quiet conversation
30 Soft whisper
20 In the woods at night
6.5 Mean absolute threshold at 1 kHz
0 Reference level


Indeed interesting and may it serve to caution all. This information should be shared too all. Especially the young who blast everything from car stereo's to ipods.
I've been painfully aware of hearing loss since I've gone shooting as a youngster all those years ago. And to think of the concerts of the '70s and '80s still make me wince.

Like Glenhifis post about our youth, I tremble a bit when some fool pulls up next to me in his car with the stereo pounding and there's a baby or kids in there with no control over his or her fate, knowing there's nothing I can do or say that would make a difference.

All the best,
As someone who has had tinnitus since attending a 1982 Bruce Springsteen concert (10th row center), I totally agree with Nonoise's comments. Our hearing is actually quite delicate. If these fools that are vibrating the windows of their Escalade or Civic knew what it would be like to have a lifetime of noise in their ears that's louder than the football game on TV, or louder than the music coming out of your stereo, they might change their ways. But probably not.

There are a lot of activities, in addition to concerts, that can do permanent damage to your hearing. I ride motorcycles, and one of the mags published an article a while back about the permanent damage to the auditory nerve that can take place from wind noise at highway speed. The information presented by Learsfool makes it pretty easy to see why it doesn't take that long to for the damage to be irreversible. I always wear ear plugs under my helmet, but still think I'm getting too much exposure to wind noise. Same when I go shooting- ear plugs AND 30 db hearing protectors over them.

The time to save your hearing is before you've done any damage, because as several doctors have told me, there's almost nothing they can do for you once you've got tinnitus. Thanks for posting this information.
Okay, so what is the average volume of music represented as a percent of peak to peak spl?
Thanks for this very useful information. I have worn earplugs for 35 years. In the 1960s and 1970s I could be seen at concerts with my fingers in my ears -- Sly and the Family Stone and others. I walked out of a Smokey Robinson concert in the 1970s when I forgot my ear plugs and did not wish to have my fingers in my ears for the duration. As a result of having protected my hearing all my life, I can now hear 16,000 Hertz and am able to enjoy the most delicate sounds of my music system -- at moderate listening levels.
You are right about ears being very sensitive. The easiest advice to follow as a guide, is if you go to a concert and have low grade tinnitus for a few days after, you have permanently degraded your hearing to a small degree, then a bit more next time.

We all take our ears and hearing for granted, in a way we would'nt with our eyes, for example.

I am sure many of you have heard this story, it may even be true. Someone reported a pidgeon flying in front of speakers at a Zappa concert and literaly disintegrating.
Great topic Lears. Thank you all for the good info. If I knew better in my days when I used to go to "parties" and listen to music at what must have been over 100db at least, for 6-8 hours straight I would've been wearing ear plugs. Hindsight is always 20/20.
This topic has been touched on before and elsewhere. Always a good idea to refresh it. On occassion, I pull out my handy Radio Shack SPL meter. For example, most recently, I was rockin' to some John Mellencamp oldies. I really got into the music at 90db SPL. Based on the above guidelines, I should be mindful about listening at that level for more than 2 or 3 hours, which fortunately the house SPL monitor does not permit -- that's my wife! LOL.
One aspect of hearing loss that is always mentioned is once you've lost it, it's gone forever. I think that should be revised as I've been off work now for 6 weeks and have another 6 to go due to shoulder surgery. From the quieter comforts of my place, I've noticed that I don't have the volume up where I've always had it since I can now hear easily what I used to concentrate to do so.
The same goes for the TV.

I rather like it.

All the best,
God, we sometimes forget how loud we play our music. Thanks for the reminder friend.