It's Summertime and the Livin' is Noisy

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Fireworks can be as loud as 162 decibels, enough to cause immediate physical damage..

Monday is the 4th of July and possibly one of the worst days of the year for your ears. The 4th is a day of parades and picnics -- but also fireworks, which are at the top of my list for damaging sources of summer noise exposure.

Fireworks. Don’t stay home from celebrations, but do buy yourself a good pair of earplugs. You’ll still hear the boom, and earplugs won’t diminish the visual spectacle. A website called The Best Earbuds offers advice accumulated from readers and personal experience. It is linked to, but I found it impartial and useful.

Yard cleanup. Don’t use that chainsaw to cut down dead limbs without a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. I don’t mean those fancy Bose headphones that people wear on airplanes (which cost around $300). Headphones specifically made for yard work are much less expensive and better protection. A chainsaw registers at about 118 decibels. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires ear protection in the workplace at that decibel level for any duration of time.

Auto racing. You may be a diehard NASCAR fan, but auto racing is about the same noise level as a jackhammer — that is, LOUD. 130 dBs. The drivers and crew wear headphones. So should you. NASCAR even has its own brand of earplugs and earmuffs.

Summer workouts. You want to get fit. The weather finally cooperates. But if you’re motivating yourself with music on your iPod or smartphone or MP3 player, check the decibel level. You don’t want to improve your cardiovascular health at the expense of your hearing. Some experts recommend keeping the volume at 80 percent or below. Or you can buy noise-canceling earbuds. Here’s a good discussion and comparative ranking of noise-canceling earbuds: And here’s another discussion of this technology.

Outdoor concerts. What could the problem be? You’re in the great outdoors. But don’t forget that music (and sports) venues are designed to retain the sound. In fact, if the noise spills over into neighboring areas, the venue may have to be redesigned. This is what happened at the White River Amphitheater southeast of Seattle.The music from the stadium could be heard across the hills in Washington state. The theater was redesigned. You could use musicians’ earbuds, but you’d be safer with noise-canceling earbuds or headphones depending on where in the stadium you’re sitting relative to the amplifiers.

It’s summertime, and the livin’ is noisy. Hold on to your hearing so you can keep on enjoying it year after year. Click here to see a “noise thermometer” giving you specific decibel levels of fireworks and other summertime noise hazards.

This article first appeared in a slightly different form on AARP Health Talk.

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