How many decibels does it take to damage my hearing?

The amount of decibels that it takes to damage hearing varies depending on the length of exposure to the sound. As few as 84db, when exposed to over long periods of time, can lead to hearing loss, but the real number to be concerned about is 120db.  At this range, not only do you experience immediate and permanent hearing damage, but it also hurts.  The average modern day dance club plays its music at about 110db at the entrance to the club. (This does not include background noise from people talking or other activities).

Can this be measured?

There is a way to measure it.  There is a very simple instrument called a “decibel meter.”  Inside the meter is a flexible membrane or cartridge. When sound waves hit it, the membrane moves slightly which creates an electric signal. The meter measures the electric signal and translates it into a decibel rating denoting the strength of the sound.  In New Orleans, local law enforcement agencies have been issued these meters in order to measure the legitimacy of noise complaints.

Can earplugs save me from hearing loss?

The sounds we hear are the end products of an interpretation that tiny hairs in our ears turn into electrical signals and send to our brain.  Think of these hairs like taste buds; without them our sense of hearing would be useless.  The problem is that the same vibrations that these hairs detect, also destroys them, and they don’t grow back.  By using earplugs you block out some of the noise, but not all of it.  Studies show that musicians who wear earplugs while exposed to loud music, lose less of their hearing than those without ear protection.  In fact, the average difference in hearing loss between the two groups is 5.6db. That’s a lot considering that decibels are measured exponentially and not linear. For every 3db in noise, the sound volume doubles. 5.6 dB is about 4 times the sound. Properly inserted ear plugs do reduce noise exposure and potential hearing loss, but wearers can still suffer hearing loss if they don’t insert the earplugs properly or if the sound levels they are exposed to are over 100 dbA.

Can my damaged hearing be repaired?

No once it’s gone, it’s gone. Sustained exposure to loud sound can also cause psychological stress, reduced productivity and concentration. Ringing in your ears, shouting to a co-worker to be heard and temporary hearing loss upon leaving work might indicate you have a problem, especially if you work in a venue where music is played at loud volume for more than three consecutive hours.

Can a musician set up shop under my window with an amplified guitar even if I live in the French Quarter? Is this legal?

Musicians are supposed to play in designated areas and keep the volume at or below our city standards. That means NO electronic amplification. Also, musicians of this sort are not allowed, even in the Quarter, after established curfews.

I am a working professional who recently moved to New Orleans to start a career.  I live next to a bar, which blasts music until about 5 a.m., 7 days a week.  My room vibrates.  Is there anything that I can legally do to change the volume at which the bar plays its music?

Good news first: There is something you can do.  The City of New Orleans has ordinances regarding noise volumes and curfews. Enforcement, setting up noise “walls”, and limiting sustained exposure to loud sounds can help. Now the bad news: law officials probably won’t do anything about it.

What are some real life examples of different decibel levels?

Device dBA
Grand Canyon at Night (no roads, birds, wind) 10
Quiet basement w/o mechanical equipment 20
Quiet Room 28-33
Computer 37-45
Refrigerator 40-43
Typical Living Room 40
Forced Hot Air Heating System 42-52
Radio Playing in Background 45-50
Background Music 50
Bathroom Exhaust Fan 54-55
Microwave 55-59
Normal Conversation 55-65
Clothes Dryer 56-58
Printer 58-65
Window Fan on High 60-66
Alarm Clock 60-80
Dishwasher 63-66
Clothes Washer 65-70
Phone 66-75
Push Reel Mower 68-72
Inside Car, Windows Closed, 30 MPH 68-73
Handheld Electronic Games 68-76
Kitchen Exhaust Fan, High 69-71
Inside Car, Windows Open, 30 MPH 72-76
Garbage Disposal 76-83
Air Popcorn Popper 78-85
Hairdryer 80-95
Electric Can Opener 81-83
Vacuum Cleaner 84-89
Coffee Grinder 84-95
Handheld Electric Mixer 86-91
Lawn Mower 88-94
Air Compressor 90-93
1/4″ Drill 92-95
Food Processor 93-100
Weed Whacker 94-96
Leaf Blower 95-105
Circular Saw 100-104
Maximum Output of Stereo 100-110
http://www.neworleansmusiciansclinic.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23 Musicians_&_Hearing_Damage_files/%C2%BB%20Newcomers%20roil%20traditionalists%20in%20New%20Orleans%E2%80%99%20bohemian%20neighborhoods_9.pdf

Credit: http://www.nonoise.org/library/household/index.htm

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