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Two girls singing loudly and playing guitar.

Noise is all around us, all of the time. You probably don’t even notice it. (In fact, you are probably more likely to notice when it gets very quiet and you can actually hear the birds singing!) Traffic roars past us, lawn mowers growl, and kids shout. Even though these are noises that we hear every day, if they are too loud or last too long they can hurt your ears and your hearing. (Luckily, there are things you can do to protect your hearing!)

Noise pollution is “unwanted or disturbing sound.” Noise pollution gets in the way of normal activities such as sleeping or talking. The fact that you can’t see, taste, or smell it may help explain why it has not received as much attention as other types of pollution, such as air pollution or water pollution.

Sounds at or above 85 decibels (dB) can hurt your ears. (A decibel measures the loudness of sound.) Sounds that humans can hear are measured on a scale from zero to 140. A normal conversation is about 60 dB. Chainsaws, hammer drills, and bulldozers ring in at over 100 dB. So if you are a construction worker, harmful sounds may be a regular part of your job. The same goes for people working around factory machinery every day. Airport workers and farmers are two more groups that are regularly exposed to loud noise. However, loud noise does not have to be an everyday happening to cause damage. One-time exposure to very loud noises, such as the sound of a gun firing at close range, can harm your ears permanently.

Other things that make enough noise to hurt your hearing include:

  • MP3 players
  • Motorcycles
  • Trucks
  • Lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, leaf blowers
  • Snowmobiles, go karts, rifles
  • Rock concerts
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How many decibels are these noisy things?

Remember: sounds at or above 85 decibels can hurt your ears or cause hearing loss.

Number of decibelsNoise
120Ambulance siren, motorcycles
110Chain saw, rock concert
105Personal stereo system at max level
100Wood shop, snowmobile
90Power mower
85Heavy city traffic
60Normal conversation
40Refrigerator humming
30Whispered voice
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Content last reviewed July 20, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013