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Fireworks and Your Delicate Ears

I'm ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, but must admit I am not a fan of the noise that accompanies fireworks — lovely as they may be. Those booming sounds can really damage the delicate structures in your ears; once they're damaged, they never regenerate and can't be repaired. This condition is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The loss is permanent and may cause impaired hearing or total loss of hearing down the road.

NIHL can be caused by one exposure to a loud noise such as an explosion, or by regular exposure over an extended period of time. If you continuously experience sounds over 85 decibels (dB) then a hearing aid may be in your future. Check out how some common sounds compare:

Rustling leaves: 10 dB
A whisper: 20 dB
Humming of a fridge: 40 dB
A conversation: 60 dB
Busy street traffic: 70 dB
Vacuum cleaner: 80 dB
Lawn mower: 90 dB
A large orchestra: 98 dB

To see how fireworks measure up


Fireworks for spectators 800 feet away: 88 to 126 dB
Fireworks for spectators 10 feet away: 155 dB
Front row of a rock concert: 110 dB
Military jet takeoff: 140 dB
Motorcycles, firecrackers, small firearms: 120 to 150 dB

So when it comes to ear safety, it's best to enjoy a fireworks display from far away. If you're serious about preventing ear damage, pick up some foam or silicone earplugs. They sell them at most drug stores for less than $5. I know they're not exactly the most fashionable things to sport, but I'd rather wear these for 20 minutes than hearing aids for the rest of my life.

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