Nathan Williams, AuD.
Boys Town Ear, Nose and Throat Institute
Whether you are shooting fireworks in your drive-way or watching a public display, you could be at risk of having some hearing damage.
How Fireworks Affect Hearing
Fireworks produce a sound output that is in the 150 to 175 decibel range. Each year, many people experience some damage to their hearing as a result of fireworks.
There are two things to note when considering whether or not fireworks will have the potential to cause hearing loss. First is the distance a person is from the sound source. Sound is less likely to affect your hearing the further you are positioned from the firework explosion.
The second thing to consider is how loud the firework actually is. The World Health Organization recommends that adults not be exposed to more than 140 decibels of peak sound pressure. For children, the recommendation is 120 decibels. If you are dealing with a firework that explodes at 170 decibels, you would have to stand 15 to 20 meters away before you are at a safe limit. Children would have to stand 50 to 60 meters away from that same firework. Infants should not be exposed to fireworks, because they generally experience the greatest amount of sound pressure.
Exposure to loud sounds can result in the following:
- Tinnitus – ringing in the ears, which can be a symptom of hearing loss.
- Temporary threshold shift – slight decrease in hearing, which usually only lasts 24 hours.
- Permanent hearing loss – a change in hearing that is permanent and cannot be restored.
Protect Your Ears
Whether you are participating in recreational or professional fireworks, hearing protection is encouraged in both situations. You could be at risk of having some hearing damage. There are two types of ear plugs that can be bought at your local drug store, super market or sporting goods store. There are roll-down foam plugs that go into the ear or headphones that sit over top of the ear. Headphones tend to be easier to wear, are more comfortable, and tend to offer more protection. If you will be setting off fireworks or are watching nearby, both roll-down foam plugs and headphones are strongly recommended for maximum hearing protection.
If a person suspects that they have had a change in hearing, a hearing test is advised. If changes have occurred, the doctor can determine if it is a temporary or permanent hearing loss.
Although fireworks are exciting, it is important to realize they can be dangerous to your hearing. With the right precautions you and your family and friends can enjoy the Fourth of July holiday without the fear of hearing loss.