How To Protect Your Hearing Outdoors

Discover effective ways to protect your ears from loud noises when outside.
Last update on May, 29, 2024

The Sounds of Summer

Safeguarding your hearing during outdoor fun

Who doesn't love spending more time outside under clear skies and basking in the warmer weather? Summer opens up many possibilities for new adventures and experiences, but could these outdoor activities put your hearing health at risk?

In this article, we'll explore a few outdoor noises that can harm your hearing and share tips on protecting yourself and others. Whether you're spending the day at the lake or beach with family or enjoying a 4th of July fireworks show, you'll know how to keep your hearing health in mind while still enjoying your favorite activities. 

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Before we get started, let's review the basics of sound intensity. Did you know that even a brisk walk around your neighborhood can leave you vulnerable to long-term hearing damage?

Our outdoor environments can be loud, from roaring lawnmowers to construction vehicles and equipment to emergency vehicles with loud sirens passing by.

Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB). To give you an idea of scale, everyday conversation typically measures around 60 dB, while a live music performance is around 100-115 dB.

Sound intensity isn't the only factor. Regular exposure to sounds, even as low as 85 dB, can cause hearing loss over time if you listen to them for more than 8 hours at a time. Research also indicates that individuals may experience noticeable hearing loss as a result of exposure to significant noise after a period of 10 years or more.

Whether you're being exposed to short and intense sounds like a gunshot or firework or quieter sounds over a period of years, it's important to wear hearing protection to prevent permanent damage that leads to hearing loss.

What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the second most common cause of acquired hearing loss and develops after prolonged exposure to loud sounds or brief exposure to extremely loud noises.

Such intense sounds can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, leading to difficulty hearing or understanding speech. NIHL can be caused by occupational noise (i.e., machinery or power tools), recreational activities (i.e., attending loud concerts or riding a motorcycle), or environmental noise (i.e., traffic or construction).

NIHL can be permanent, too, as the damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner ear caused by exposure to loud noise is often irreversible.

Common Types of Noise Exposure in the Summer

Let's review a few popular summer activities and their impact on our hearing health.

4-Wheeling (ATVs and Side-by-sides)

Four-wheelers are a fun and fast way to explore the outdoors, but did you know that decibel levels can easily range between 90 to 130 dB depending on the style and model you have?

While 4-wheeling is a great way to explore areas off the beaten path, being exposed to decibel levels that high can damage your hearing in as little as a few minutes. As with other loud outdoor activities, you can protect yourself by wearing hearing protection or opting to hike as a hearing-healthy alternative to exploring nature.

Fishing/Boating

Taking your boat out to go fishing can be one of the most relaxing experiences—and one of the noisiest parts of your day. At cruising speeds, boats can easily have decibel levels between 80 and 90 dB, but some can reach up to 100 dB. For reference, in a situation with 80 dB of noise, most people around us would have to shout to hear one another.

When riding at such high speeds, the noise level of the wind can be just as harmful to your hearing as the boat's engine. For example, riding at 65 miles per hour with your ears exposed to the elements can result in wind noise levels exceeding 103 dB.

The good news is you don't need to give up fishing to protect your hearing. Wear hearing protection while cruising to your favorite spot, or try a quieter alternative, like fly fishing.  

Outdoor Festivals

Live performances and outdoor festivals during the summer can significantly impact our hearing health. These events often feature amplified music played at high volumes, which can lead to prolonged exposure to loud noise.

The combination of close proximity to loudspeakers and the extended duration of these events can also increase the risk of noise-induced hearing damage. Attending live performances and festivals can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss without ear protection, such as earplugs.

Note that this is a big reason we want to ensure that our kids and grandkids understand the importance of hearing health and protecting it at a young age.

Renovations/DIY Projects

Summer is a good time to address those home repair projects you've been putting off in the winter. Whether hiring a professional to do the work or performing the job yourself, home repairs and renovations can affect your hearing due to power tools and machinery, which produce high noise levels.

Prolonged exposure to these loud noises, particularly in enclosed spaces, can lead to gradual hearing damage. To minimize the risk of hearing impairment, it's important to use ear protection, such as earmuffs or earplugs, when performing home repairs and renovations.

Similarly, if you work in the renovation or building industry, you're exposed to loud and potentially harmful noises on a daily basis. Therefore, it's important to understand at what decibel level hearing protection is required at work so you can take the necessary precautions. 

Fireworks Show

Attending your community's annual fireworks show is a tradition for most families. However, the loud, explosive sounds from fireworks can reach levels well above 155 dB—much higher than the safe threshold for human ears.

To put it simply, a single blast from a firework that reaches 140 dB, even if the sound lasts under one second, causes immediate damage to your hearing, leading to tinnitus or even permanent hearing loss. So make sure to wear ear protection while you enjoy the fireworks display and stand at least 500 feet away.

Ways to Protect Your Ears from Loud Noises

We never want you to miss out on your favorite outdoor hobbies or sounds, but becoming aware of their impact on your hearing health and finding ways to reduce noise-induced hearing loss is crucial to your long-term health and wellness.

 

Below are a few ways to protect your hearing without impacting your summer fun.

 

Take Breaks

Schedule some quiet time between your outdoor activities to give your ears a break from loud noises.

Wear Passive Hearing Protection

Earplugs or earmuffs can be conventional or custom-made. With many options available, it's easy to find one that best suits your activity level and personal preference.

Properly fitted earplugs or earmuffs may reduce noise by 15 to 30 dB, lowering your exposure to harmful noise levels. So, as you pack your gear, make hearing protection part of your equipment checklist.

Pro Tip: If you're hunting, fishing, or riding with a group, bring extra earplugs and offer hearing protection to the rest of your party. You can even get hearing protection for your four-legged friends.

Stay Mindful of Your Surroundings

Smartphones and smartwatches can be incredibly useful in helping us stay aware of exposure to harmful outdoor noises.

Many smart devices, like Apple, have built-in noise level monitoring features that can alert you when you're being exposed to noise pollution. This is particularly useful when going for a walk outdoors or meeting friends at a restaurant, when you might not realize you're at risk.

By using this technology, you can be notified when noise levels exceed safe thresholds, allowing you to take necessary precautions such as using ear protection or removing yourself from the environment completely.

Additionally, some devices can track the noise levels you are exposed to on a regular basis, providing valuable data that can help you take steps to protect your hearing in the long term.

Try Active Hearing Protection

Active hearing protection is a device that uses electronic technology to enhance hearing while also protecting from loud noises. These devices typically contain microphones and speakers that allow wearers to hear ambient sounds safely while automatically reducing the volume when loud noises are detected.

Active hearing protection is beneficial in environments where communication and situational awareness are essential, such as shooting ranges, industrial settings, and construction sites. 

Does Noise Canceling Protect Hearing?

When noise-canceling earbuds or headphones are used properly, they can help protect your hearing by reducing the need to turn up the volume to overcome external noise.

Doing so can be particularly beneficial in environments with high background noise, as it allows you to listen to audio at a lower, safer volume while still enjoying clear sound quality. Just remember that noise canceling technology does not protect your hearing from loud and damaging environmental noise.

Protect Your Hearing This Summer

There are many ways to protect your ears from loud noises, especially those we encounter during the summer. In addition to the hearing safety tips mentioned above, be sure to schedule regular appointments with a hearing care provider near you.

 

Regular evaluations allow your provider to identify hearing health issues early on, ensuring you receive the proper treatment to avoid further damage and protect your whole body's health and wellness. 

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