The effects of noise on hearing vary among people. Some people's ears are more sensitive to loud sounds, especially at certain frequencies. But any sound that is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage hearing and lead to hearing loss.
In general, sounds above 85 decibels (dB) are harmful. But this depends on how long and how often you are exposed to the sound and whether you wear hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs.
Here are examples of noises that produce levels above 85 decibels:
Heavy traffic, window air conditioner, noisy restaurant, power lawn mower
Subway, shouted conversation
Chainsaw, leaf blower, snowmobile
Sports crowd, rock concert, loud symphony
Gunshot, siren at 100 feet
How to know when noise levels may be harmful
An easy way to be more aware of possibly harmful noise is to pay attention to warning signs that a sound might be damaging to your hearing. A sound may be harmful if:
You have trouble talking or hearing others talk over the sound.
The sound makes your ears hurt.
Your ears are ringing after hearing the sound.
Other sounds seem muffled after you leave an area where there is loud noise.
Author: Healthwise Staff Clinical Review Board All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
NOTICE: This health information was not created by Columbia University Irving Medical Center and may not necessarily reflect specific CUIMC practices. For medical advice relating to your personal condition, please consult your doctor. Medical advice disclaimer.