With the pandemic easing in the UK, a lot more people are likely to go and watch fireworks in celebration of Guy Fawkes night. Although the light display can be spectacular and dazzling, the noise effect can potentially have long lasting otological implications...
Is there a real risk of hearing loss from fireworks display?
There are mainly 2 different types of fireworks; those which are for commercial use and those available to the public. The latter being the type which can be ignited in your back garden. Commercial fireworks displays can be as loud as 175 decibels and those available to the public can be as loud as 120 decibels. Commercial fireworks tend to be perceived as quieter as they explode higher in the air compared to home fireworks that explode at a lower level. Again the proximity to the fireworks determines the loudness. For every doubling of distance, the sound level reduces by 6 decibels (dB),
The legal level for firework displays in the UK is 120 decibels as recommended by the World Heath Organisation (WHO). Exposure to noise levels above this threshold can cause immediate damage to ones hearing.
How loud is 120 decibels?
To put this into perceptive - a jet taking off (130 decibels); sirens (110 decibels); a vacuum cleaner (75 decibels); and normal conversation ( 60 decibels). Although damage to hearing is a result of a lifetimes exposure to sounds, exposure to excessively loud sounds for a couple of seconds without wearing ear protection can cause permanent hearing damage.
I would like to attend to a fireworks display. What can I do to prevent hearing damage?
Put simply, wear ear protection. The WHO suggests that children should not be exposed to sound levels higher than 120 decibels. Neonates are especially sensitive to higher sound pressure therefore it’s advisable to purchase over counter ear hearing protection or refrain from exposing them to fireworks all together. Adults can also benefit from wearing ear protection such as ear plugs. These can be found at your local pharmacy or supermarket.
Also be conscious of the length of time you are exposed to firework displays. For noise levels of 85 decibels there is a limit of 8 hours, whereas 120 decibels (firework sound levels) is 10 seconds. As a precautionary measure it’s best to observe from a distance especially if the fireworks display is in your back garden.
What are the signs of noise induced hearing loss ?
Sudden decline of hearing in one or both ears
Sudden presence of loud noises or ringing in one or both ears. This is referred to as tinnitus.
Temporary decline of hearing that would come back after 16 to 48 hours although long term damage is likely to have occurred.
A perforation resulting in excruciating pain and sometimes blood coming out of the ear.
Although it’s rare one can experience Diplacusis also known as double hearing.
Enjoy the weekends festivities, just remember to protect your hearing!
Written by Sibekithemba Charlotte Matiba
Expert Earwax Removal Practitioner and Hearing Aid Audiologist