Photo credit: Martha Nelson licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In many parts of the country, everyone is waiting for the emergence of Brood X cicadas. Cicadas have adopted an interesting survival strategy: They develop underground for 17 years and only emerge in such large numbers that their predators can’t eat them all during a short few week life span during which they mate and lay eggs.

The mating calls of male cicadas are noisy, 80-90 decibels. That’s somewhere in sound intensity between a vacuum cleaner and a gas-powered leaf blower.

As Marcus Schneck’s article in PennLive notes, this is loud enough to cause hearing loss, and certainly loud enough to interrupt conversations, disturb concentration, and impair sleep.

My only quibble with Schneck’s piece is his statement that “[t]he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss and recommends limiting unprotected exposure to 100 decibels to 15 minutes.” In fact, in recent online information, the CDC states that “noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing.“

That’s a much safer noise exposure level to aim for.

Because if something sounds too loud–like the mating calls of male cicadas–it is too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.