People often think that loud music at concerts and festivals is the only circumstance you could damage your hearing. But man, when we are out, there are a lot of other sounds that make our ears cringe. What about girls shrieking, guys laughing or drunk people talking (or quite often shouting) to you? For one, they are enough to give us a headache. Are these 'conversations' loud enough to give us hearing damage?
Now, this is all about the decibels (dB). Decibel is a logarithmic way of describing a ratio between things like power, sound pressure, and voltage and you can read more about them here. Any sound level reaching above 80 decibel can damage your hearing. Luckily, conversations are seen as moderate noises; everyday sounds that are unlikely to cause damage and may even seem peaceful. However, we now arrive at the problem...
Social hubs and decibel levels
Because, as you may have noticed, people tend to be a lot louder in social hubs such as a pub, restaurant or the club. Logically, people talk with their voice raised in a bar so you are able to hear them above other people talking and the music. And of course, you always have that loud friend who gets even louder when he's had a couple of beers. The effect? Noise levels above 90 dB! This is above the so-called decibel limit of 80 dB and can damage your hearing after only one hour.
So, let's dive into what the decibel levels can be in restaurants, pubs, and clubs. And we thought it would also be fun to check out how loud people can be when they are laughing, shouting, shrieking and what not! But that's for later.
This table shows how loud it can get in restaurants, pubs, and clubs and what factors can influence decibel levels. A nifty checklist, right?
– Talking + background music
– A busy restaurant with louder music
70 –75 dB
75 – 85 dB
– Quiet pub with no music or background music
– Pub with a jukebox
– Crowded pub
– Crowded pub + loud music
– Pub/party cafe + dancing
75 – 80 dB
80 – 85 dB
85 – 90 dB
90 – 95 dB
90 – 100 dB
- Regular club music
- Live music
100 – 110 dB
100 – 115 dB
What about the people?
Now, then we have another factor to weigh in: people. Boys will be boys, with their loud, low voices. And girls will be girls with their high pitched shrieks.
Let's start with laughing though: most people produce 70 dB when laughing. However, in groups at a restaurant or pub, this can quickly lead up to 90 dB. Luckily this won't immediately be harmful to your hearing because the exposure to the sound is short. Most people don't laugh longer than a couple of seconds.
However, in 2015 the world laughing record was broken at the museum night in Rotterdam and set at 124 dB. Which is way louder than live music and could easily damage your hearing. Oef, luckily we weren't there!
A lot of people will start raising their voices after a couple of beers or in a busy restaurant or pub. Now, normally conversations can be around 60 to 70 decibels. However, a loud voice can be around 85 decibels. So, best to keep an arm's length between you and that loud (girl)friend of yours! Whispering, by the way, is normally around 40 decibels. Just so you know.
So what about shrieking and shouting? According to this source, men can typically be louder than woman. About 15 percent of men can shout over 96 decibels, whilst 85% of all the woman out there aren't able to shout louder than 75 decibels. So, you would be better of talking to woman than men. Although there are more reasons for that other than decibel levels! ;)
And what about those womanly shrieks? Well, those can reach above 100 decibels! The world record set by Jill Drake is 129 decibels. Wauw. Here's a fun fact for you by the way: a top 10 was made from the most loud tennis grunters/shriekers. Russian Maria Sharapova shrieks at 101 decibels whilst she is on her game and this puts her at the top of the list.
Ok, what now? A good rule of thumb to start with, is that if you have to raise your voice to be heard by the people at an arms length away, the environment is probably too loud. Also, we have some handy ways of measuring decibels here. Just be sure to always have a set of thunderplugs on your keychain so you can plug those ears when you notice that your friends and/or your social environment are too loud!