A Guide to Help You Understand Decibels & How They Work

Understanding the decibel scale provides insight into the degrees of hearing loss a person experiences. It also helps when deciding what type of hearing protection is required in various environments. Human ears can detect an incredibly wide range of sounds, so it’s important to understand the power behind them.

At Connect Hearing, we’re passionate about providing the resources and tools you need to enhance your hearing health and quality of life. With a commitment to providing industry-leading hearing health care throughout Texas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, California, and other locations nationwide, we have what it takes to improve your hearing. Contact our hearing care professionals today to learn more and schedule a free hearing evaluation.

What Are Decibels?

Decibels (dB) are defined as the units used to measure the intensity of a sound. The human ear is incredibly sensitive to sound, so the decibel unit of measurement is a little tricky. For comparison, the sound of the jet engine is about one trillion times more powerful than the smallest audible sound. Using a linear scale for the large range of sound levels in human hearing would be challenging, so the decibel is a logarithmic unit.

The Decibel Scale

The decibel scale's smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 dB. A sound that is ten times more powerful would be 10 dB. A sound that is 100 times more powerful than 0 dB is 20 dB, and sounds that are 1,000 times more powerful than near total silence are 30 dB. Someone with "normal” hearing should be able to hear sounds around 10 dB, while someone with moderate hearing loss may not hear anything lower than 50 dB. We’ve included some common sounds from everyday life and their decibel ratings that were taken while standing near the sound:
  • Near total silence: 0 dB
  • Whispering: 15 dB
  • Normal conversation: 60 dB
  • Lawn mower: 90 dB
  • Car horn: 110 dB
  • Live music or jet engine: 120 dB
  • Gunshot or firecracker: 140 dB

About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

According to the CDC, 17 percent of all adults experience hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise, whether instantaneous or prolonged. Hearing loss can occur with any sound above 85 dB, depending on the sound's power and the exposure length. If you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone else, you’re listening to an 85-dB sound. Eight hours of 90-dB sound can cause permanent damage to the ears. Exposure to 140-dB sound causes immediate hearing damage and even pain.

How Are Decibels Calculated?

Decibels are calculated by taking the logarithm of the power ratio and multiplying the outcome by 10.

What Is Considered “Loud” on the Decibel Scale?

A typical conversation is around 60 dB, and anything over 85 dB can damage hearing over time. If you’re too close to the source of the sound, loud noises over 140 dB can cause instant and painful damage to your ears.

Is 100 dB Too Loud?

Prolonged exposure of 100 dB is much too loud. Anything louder than 85 dB can cause hearing damage that can't be reversed. For comparison, farming equipment, motorcycles, and jackhammers all have around 100 dB.

How Can I Protect My Hearing?

Most people can tell if the noise around them is too loud. If you’re uncomfortable with the noise level, it’s probably a good indication it’s too loud and can cause damage to your hearing. Some ways to protect your hearing from damage include:
  • Turn the volume down when listening to music
  • Walk away from loud noises, such as construction sites
  • Take breaks from loud noises if you can’t avoid the area
  • Avoid loud, noisy activities and places
  • Use hearing protection such as earplugs or earmuffs

Get in Touch With Our Premier Hearing Clinics Today

Understanding decibels and how the scale works can give you a better sense of hearing loss and how to prevent it. If you and your friends are shouting at one another in a public place to keep the conversation going, your environment is probably too loud and can damage your hearing permanently. At Connect Hearing, we provide industry-leading hearing health care through our nationwide network of hearing centers in Texas, Florida, California, and beyond. Our hearing care professionals and audiologists provide free hearing evaluations with recommendations based on your individual needs and lifestyle. Contact us today to learn more, or book an appointment online to take the first step towards enhanced hearing and a higher quality of life.