Photo credit: Chuck Kardous, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

If I had $1 for every time I see an article incorrectly state that 85 decibels (dB) is “safe” for auditory health, I would be rich. It’s especially frustrating to read in a musicradar.com article with a target audience of musicians.

Our hearing systems take the full brunt of incoming sound levels. They don’t disperse acoustic energy over time. Once daily average noise levels go above 70 dB LEQ, you risk hearing damage regardless of listening time.

The article is an otherwise good piece by an audiologist who makes several recommendations to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus, including using high fidelity musician’s type hearing protection and using smartphone sound level meter apps to check environmental noise levels. But it doesn’t mention the prevalence of inaccurate sound level meter apps, how to change app settings to public health based noise measurement settings (e.g. 3 dB exchange-rate, Fast time-weighting, NIOSH standard), or the importance of using average dB LAEQ results instead of time-weighted averages or dose percentage which are only used in occupational health. My favourite app to use is the free NIOSH sound level meter app.

Why do some audiologists or other experts keep mentioning 85 dB when it is NOT safe? Most of us weren’t taught the difference between less protective occupational health and protective public health noise limits. As an occupational audiologist, I learned on the job that 8% of adult workers with 85 dB daily average exposure are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Most audiologists and ENT physicians don’t know that the auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibel.

As we learn more about human auditory systems, including science on potential risk below 70 dB, it is more important than ever to stop saying 85 dB is safe. It’s simply not factual.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a science enthusiast and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.