The key to keeping your hearing healthy is knowing how much loud sound you’re exposed to. A ‘noise diet’ can protect your hearing from future problems.

Most cases of deafness are caused by damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. This damage can be caused by too much noise, and it’s permanent. Noise-related hearing loss is usually irreversible.

It is important that we all take steps to prevent noise-related damage. The key to keeping your hearing intact is to avoid loud noise.

The louder the sound, the less time you can safely listen to it. Just because a sound isn’t annoying doesn’t make it safe.

Noisy occupations, such as working in factories or on roadworks, used to be the most common cause of hearing problems. But with the tightening of health and safety rules, working in a noisy industry should be less hazardous to your hearing, provided you wear the correct ear protection.

Nowadays it’s recreational loud noise that’s the main problem, especially from MP3 players, such as iPods, as well as noisy clubs and music gigs. That’s thought to be why hearing loss is increasingly affecting younger people.

Are you exposed to too much noise?

You can lose some hearing after being exposed to loud noises for too long, for example by standing close to speakers at a nightclub. Or hearing can be damaged after a short burst of explosive noise, such as gunshots or fireworks.

If you work or frequently spend time in a noisy place or listen to loud music a lot, you could be losing your hearing without even realising it.

The best way to avoid developing noise-induced hearing loss is to keep away from loud noise as much as you can.

Here’s a guide to some typical noise levels, measured in decibels (dB). The higher the number, the louder the noise. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says noise levels above 105dB can damage your hearing if endured for more than 15 minutes each week. But lower levels, such as between 80dB and 90dB can also cause permanent damage if you’re exposed to them for hours every day.

  • normal conversation: 60-65dB
  • a busy street: 75-85dB
  • lawn mower/heavy traffic: 85dB
  • forklift truck: 90dB
  • hand drill: 98dB
  • heavy lorry about seven metres away: 95-100dB
  • motorbikes: 100dB
  • cinema: some films regularly top 100dB during big action scenes
  • disco/nightclub/car horn: 110dB
  • MP3 player on loud: 112dB
  • chainsaw: 115-120dB
  • rock concert/ambulance siren: 120dB