Noise Pollution Calculator - Maximal Exposure Time

Created by Filip Derma
Reviewed by Bogna Szyk and Adena Benn
Last updated: Oct 22, 2022

Noise Pollution Calculator is a tool that helps you to protect yourself from hearing loss. It gives you the maximum noise exposure time for a specified intensity level measured in decibels [dB]. If you work in a noisy place every day, are a fan of loud rock concerts, or are a regular club session participant, check out our calculator to learn how long you can safely stay in the particular sound volume.

Noise definition

Noise is a sound of too high intensity (too loud), taken as unpleasant, arduous, pointless, and harmful. International Labor Organization defines noise as each sound that may cause hearing loss, damage health, or be dangerous for other reasons. The human body spends a tremendous amount of energy defending itself against noise. Unfortunately, we cannot get accustomed to it.

What is noise pollution?

Nowadays, we hear about multiple types of pollution that are harmful to the environment. Everybody heard about air pollution, water pollution, littering, plastic pollution, or thermal pollution. However, noise pollution, also known as environmental noise or sound pollution, is one of the most significant and severe modern-day pollutions; still, we do not think about it often or even realize it exists.

Noise pollution is unwanted and excessive sounds that affect human health and environmental quality deleteriously. Industrial facilities and other kinds of workplaces generate noise pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and researchers worldwide have warned against the effect it has on human health for decades.

In the table below, you can find examples of different noise levels:

Noise level [dB]

Noise example

0

healthy hearing threshold

10

a pin dropping

20

rustling leaves

30

whisper

40

babbling brook

50

light traffic

60

conversational speech

70

shower

75

toilet flushing

80

alarm clock

85

passing diesel truck

90

squeeze toy

95

inside subway car

100

motorcycle (riding)

105

sporting event

110

rock band

115

emergency vehicle siren

120

thunderclap

125

balloon popping

130

peak stadium crowd noise

135

air raid siren

140

jet engine at takeoff

145

firecracker

150

fighter jet launch

155

cap gun

160

shotgun

165

.357 magnum revolver

170

safety airbag

175

howitzer cannon

180

rocket launch

194

sound waves become shock waves

Hearing standards

The range of human hearing is 20 - 20000 Hz with amplitude from 0 dB to 130 dB or more, but it can vary a bit between individuals, especially for high frequencies. The human ear does not hear all frequencies equally well - the sensitivity peak is around 3000 Hz. 0 dB does not represent an absence of sound but the softest sound that, on average, the human ear can hear. Some people can hear below the zero level, down to -5 dB or even -10 dB ( musicians usually have a lower hearing threshold). 130 decibels represent the threshold of pain.

The human ear can tolerate sounds up to 85 decibels without damage. Anything louder causes a risk of permanent hearing loss. Scientific studies show that noise equal to or greater than 65 decibels can raise blood pressure, up heart rate, and increase the concentration of stress hormones in the blood. Over time we can get used to these sounds, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous.

If you have information about noise intensity in different units - W/m2 and want to calculate the decibels, or find out the sound pressure level, check out our dB calculator.

You can also look at our speed of sound calculator to learn about how the speed of a sound changes with temperature.

Hearing loss

Today's world is noisy. We are constantly surrounded by lots of different noises (especially in big cities - traffic, working machines, horns, etc.) and sounds (music through headphones, concerts, club parties). Hearing damage can affect each of us, but are we aware of it?

Irreversible hearing loss may be caused by both constant exposure to loud sounds (85 dB and higher) and one-time exposure to thunderous sounds (120 dB and higher).

We can observe hearing loss when a person has diminished sensitivity to the sounds audible for a regular person. The severity of hearing damage is categorized according to the increase in volume above the standard level of its detection. An audiogram is a basic examination that allows us o estimate the hearing condition. It is a graph of the minimal noticeable sound level throughout the hearing frequency range (frequency versus amplitude) run by an audiologist.

Types of hearing loss

There are two types of hearing loss:

  1. Temporary hearing loss (Temporary threshold shift) - reversible. It is a reduced sensitivity to sound over a wide frequency range. It might occur suddenly after exposure to a high level of sound - brief, like an explosion, gunshot, jet engine, or longer: rock concert, nightclub party session. Hearing recovery to pre-noise level after that kind of incident usually takes 24 hours but may take up to a week. People who experience temporary threshold shift may often also experience temporary tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, hissing - hearing sounds without their external source).

  2. Permanent hearing loss (Noise-induced hearing loss) - irreversible. Results in lower sensitivity or even muting, usually for frequencies between 3000 Hz and 6000 Hz. As hearing damage progresses, breakage affects higher and lower frequencies. That kind of disability may cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Tinnitus (as mentioned above)
  • Tympanophonia (abnormal hearing of own voice and respiratory sounds)
  • Otalgia (pain in the ear)
  • Hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to specific frequencies and volume ranges of a sound)
  • Dizziness/vertigo

So, after reading the above paragraphs, if you are wondering what your hearing condition is, try to find out by making a professional audiogram. It is impossible to undo the permanent hearing damage, but you can work to prevent further progression.

Noise exposure time

Calculations in the Noise Pollution Calculator - Maximal Exposure Time use information obtained from "Occupational Noise Exposure" standards for workers, established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The NIOSH limits are based on scientific studies relating noise exposure to hearing loss. They are focused on hearing protection. The primary scientific evidence is the equal-energy rule (3 dB time-intensity tradeoff) -> every 3 dB increase in noise level requires the noise exposure time to be reduced by half. The allowable exposure time doubles for every 3 dB decrease in noise level.

The standards assume that noise occurs as a part of a work environment and non-occupational quiet. Limits apply to an 8-hour workday, five days per week, over a 40-year working lifetime, and the time the individual is not at work (the other 16 hours in a day, as well as weekends) is assumed to be quiet. The standards do not cover other noisy activities and hobbies (power tools, concerts, car races), which may increase the risk of permanent hearing loss.

Reduced noise levels also improve the signal-to-noise ratio, which impacts data transfers to a significant extent.

Filip Derma
Noise level
dB
Max exposure time
hrs
min
sec
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