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Frequently Asked Questions

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How loud is too loud?

Sound is measured in units called decibels. On the decibel scale, an increase of 10 means that a sound is 10 times more intense, or powerful. To your ears, it sounds twice as loud. The humming of a refrigerator is 45 decibels, normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels, and the noise from heavy city traffic can reach 85 decibels.

Sources of noise that can cause noise-induced hearing loss include wind noise on motorcycles, firecrackers, and small firearms, all emitting sounds from 120 to 150 decibels. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before noise-induced hearing loss  can occur. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is a condition of the visible or outer portion of the ear and ear canal. This condition is painful, and affects men and women equally, although children and teenagers are more often affected than adults. Because water can trigger the condition, it is called swimmer’s ear, but water from the bath or shower can also be the cause.

Symptoms almost always include pain, but can also include itching, redness, fluid drainage, hearing loss, tinnitus or mild fever, although fever is rare.

Custom-made ear protection can protect against the ear’s exposure to water, thus limiting the chances of developing swimmer’s ear.

Why do I need hearing protection if I am wearing a helmet?

Most bikers think that a top-of-the-range helmet - or even any helmet at all - protects their hearing. They also think that hearing loss comes only from exposure to the noise of the bike itself. However, according to a study performed by the University of Southampton, above 65 km/h the wind noise generated by the airflow over a motorcycle and rider exceeds the noise from the motorcycle itself.

In South Africa, the maximum legal exposure to constant noise of 80dB is eight hours. As noise increases, exposure time decreases, and by the time noise reaches 115dB, exposure is limited to a mere 15 minutes before damage occurs. Wind noise at highway speeds can measure up to 105dB - worse than running a chainsaw! At these levels, the rider will experience physical fatigue from the excess noise exposure, and will need a hearing aid later in life.

The study showed that the main source of wind noise is the turbulence at the edge of the windscreen's wake acting on the helmet. Low windscreens direct the turbulence to the base of the helmet, while high windscreens direct it to the helmet visor and forehead. Modifications to improve helmet seals at these points can reduce noise levels by between 5 and 8dB at the ear.

While these decreases are a step in the right direction, the best protection is at the ear, where studies show that hearing protection can achieve noise levels of 70dB at 80 km/h and 80dB at 115 km/h. While active noise reduction earmuffs can be built into your helmet, this is costly, and the same - or better - results can be achieved from custom-made in-the-ear hearing protectors.

Can MP3 players damage my hearing?

Sound is measured in units called decibels. On the decibel scale, an increase of 10 means that a sound is 10 times more intense, or powerful. To your ears, it sounds twice as loud. The humming of a refrigerator is 45 decibels, normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels, and the noise from heavy city traffic can reach 85 decibels.

Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before noise-induced hearing loss  can occur. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss.

According to a British study, 39% of 18-24 year olds listen to music for at least an hour a day, at levels of up to 105 decibels. This means they are subjecting their ears to a level of noise that they should not be tolerating for more than 25 minutes per week. It has been estimated that with this permanent overtaxing there is a danger of becoming deaf within about five years.