How can I tell if I am around noise that is “too loud”?

July 24, 2019    Health and Hearing loss, Hearing Loss, Hearing Tips

How can I tell if I am around noise that is “too loud”?

Which sounds are considered “loud but not harmful” and which are considered “harmful for your hearing”?  How am I supposed to know?

Power tools, lawn mowers, carpentry tools, concerts, loud music, firearms, sporting events, noise from our jobs …there is potentially “harmful noise” all around us. But fear not! There are ways to measure how loud these sounds are, how long we can safely be around them, and when we need to put in hearing protection.

Today, 81% of Americans own smartphones. These devices make sound level meters (SLM), which measure the volume of sound in our environment, available at our fingertips. Simply download an app and start measuring the volume of the world around you!

Here are top rated SLM apps for iPhone and Android:

Apps for iPhone:

SPLnFFT Noise Meter
Decibel X
NIOSH Sound Level Meter
SPL Meter
dB Volume Meter
SoundMaster RTA

Apps for Android:

Sound Meter & Noise Detector
Best Sound Meter
Sound Meter
Sound Meter PRO
SPL Meter
Decibel Meter Sound and Noise

The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommendations for the maximum time we should be around a particular noise level before we are at a greater risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). You can use the chart below to determine the amount of time you can safely be around the noise you are measuring with your new SLM app. The rule to follow: with every 3 dB increase in the noise level, cut the time you spend around that noise in half. When your maximum exposure time is up, you should put in hearing protection if you are going to stay around that noise level.


Check out our blog on NIHL published in April 2019 to see a chart for noise levels of everyday sounds.

Dr. Ashley Huerta
Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.)/ Fellow of American Academy of Audiology (F-AAA)
Tustin Hearing Center