Skip to main content


Noise and hearing loss


Does noise cause hearing loss?

Yes. Chances are you have damaged your ears if you have ever had any of the following:

  • A one-time exposure to extremely loud noise
  • Repeated or long exposure to loud noise
  • Extended exposure to moderate noise

Noise-induced hearing loss happens gradually and without pain. It is also permanent.

How does the noise cause hearing loss?

Inside the inner ear is a chamber. This chamber holds thousands of tiny hair cells. These hair cells signal the auditory (hearing) nerve to send impulses to the brain. When you are exposed to loud or prolonged noise, the hair cells become damaged. When the hair cells are damaged, sound is not transmitted properly. Eventually, so many hair cells are damaged that a hearing loss occurs.

Are some people more likely to have hearing loss caused by noise?

Yes. Some types of chemotherapy and radiation increase the risk of hearing loss from noise. You should be especially careful to protect your child from loud noises if they are having these treatments.

What is damaging noise?

The following are some examples of things that can be hearing hazards.

Appliances Occupations Recreation
hair dryers firefighters hunting
vacuum cleaners construction workers boaring or water-skiing
lawn mowers farmers motorcycling or four-wheeling
yard trimmers or leaf blowers cab, truck, and bus drivers stereo headphones

What is a dangerous noise level?

Whether noise will damage your hearing depends on 2 things:

  • The amount (loudness) of the noise
  • The length of time you are exposed to the noise

Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered hazardous. The noise chart below gives you an idea of average decibel levels for everyday sounds.

Painful Extremely loud Very loud Moderate Faint
140 dB 
110 dB
rock music
80 dB
alarm clock
50 dB
moderate rainfall
30 dB
130 dB
100 dB
70 dB
hair dryer, vacuum cleaner
40 dB
quiet room
120 dB
jet plane
90 dB
60 dB

What are warning signs that noises are too loud?

  • You have to raise your voice to be heard.
  • You cannot hear someone 2 feet away from you.
  • Speech around you sounds muffled after you leave a noisy area.
  • You have pain or ringing in your ears after exposure to noise.

What can I do to protect myself and my child?

First, avoid loud noise whenever possible. If you cannot avoid exposure to noise, do the following:

  • Wear hearing protectors: ear plugs (available in Rehabilitation Services) or earmuffs (available at sporting goods stores). Using cotton in your ears does not work and may be dangerous. When using hearing protectors, you can still hear and understand voices and other sounds with ease.
  • Limit periods of exposure to noise. For example, if you are at a loud concert, go to a quieter area for a while to give your ears a break.
  • Be aware of the noise in your environment, and take control of it when you can.

If you have questions about noise and hearing loss, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).