Cheering crowd and fireworks

4th of July Fireworks and Hearing Health

When the dangers of fireworks are discussed, it’s almost always a list of safety tips concerning:

  • Your hands from explosion / fire damage
  • Your and your neighbors property from damage
  • PTSD and similar issues aggravated by loud noises

One of the things that often gets missed is the health of our hearing during the 4th of July celebrations – or any celebration involving fireworks.

Most people enjoy the feeling of the explosions – it’s more than just your ears, often with the really large fireworks, you can feel it throughout your body. It’s something we don’t encounter on a daily basis, and had a lot of novelty. And, it’s a really good thing we don’t encounter that level of noise on a frequent basis!

The large fireworks can reach up to 155 decibels (or dB, for short). To give you an idea just how loud that is, here’s some quick example of noise levels:

  • Average room noise: 40dB
  • Normal conversation: 60dB
  • Vacuum Cleaner: 75dB
  • Lawn mower: 85dB
  • Shouting: 90dB
  • Motorcycle: 100dB
  • Chainsaw or leaf blower: 110dB
  • Sporting Event: 120dB
  • Rock Concert: 125dB
  • Stock Car Races: 130dB
  • Gunshots, Jet Engine: 140dB

You’ll notice the list becomes bold at 85 dB. 85 dB is considered to be the beginning of the range where it’s considered to be harmful to your hearing, particularly if you experience it on a regular basis. OSHA’s guidelines for noise levels require that anything 85dB or above for 8 hours requires hearing protection to prevent both initial and long term hearing loss. And, as the noises get louder, the amount of time required to cause hearing damage quickly goes down.

Senior Woman Suffering From Tinnitus

Then, you’ll notice another shift – above 120dB, those levels run the risk of causing immediate hearing loss, and once you reach 140dB, exposure will quickly become painful.

When we say “hearing loss”, that doesn’t mean you’ll immediately go deaf. You might experience ringing in your ears, or a “dullness” after a rock concert, for instance. But, the next day, you’ll probably shake it off and not think of it again. What you don’t realize is that you may have lost just a small amount of your hearing in the process – that ringing is called noise-induced tinnitus, and it’s an indicator of possible hearing damage. Repeated exposure will further dull your hearing over time.

But, we mentioned at the start that some fireworks reach up to 155dB! And for some commercial level fireworks, it can reach 175dB! If you’re at point blank range of a firework that loud, you will most likely feel pain, strong hearing loss, and potentially nausea and disorientation due to damage to the inner ear. For those who attend celebrations with fireworks, you’re not experiencing that 155 – 175dB range – you’re far enough away, you may experience between 120 and 140dB noise levels. Those are still really high.

And, when firing off your own fireworks, there’s always the risk of being too close to one when it goes off. Even small firecrackers can be extremely damaging when they are too close to you.

Yellow hearing safety protection earplug isolated on a grey background.
Simple safety ear plugs

How do you protect yourself, and the people around you?

First, be aware of the noise levels. If you’re shooting off your own fireworks, be sure to give plenty of distance between yourself (or the people watching) and the fireworks. Don’t hold fireworks and throw them – that’s way too close for the noise levels. (Plus, that also protects your fingers.) And keep an eye on the kids, of course. Many kids love the novelty of loud fireworks.

Take a break from time to time. Go inside or get some more distance between you and the fireworks. This is particularly true if your ears do start ringing – you’ve already started the process of potential hearing damage. Give your ears a break, and let them relax.

Wear hearing protection. This is a great idea no matter if you’re at a festival style fireworks celebration or shooting your own off at home. Ear plugs aren’t expensive, and for those who needed it, they can be paired with ear muff style hearing protection similar to what many gun enthusiasts use at the range to provide excellent protection.

We all here at Hillside Medical Office hope you have a happy and safe 4th of July! Take care to not damage your fingers, people’s property, or your hearing! And be mindful of those in your neighborhood who may suffer from conditions that make fireworks a hazard to them.

All information provided here is for education and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered specific medical advice. Don’t just read the Internet for medical advice – contact Hillside Medical Office and set up an appointment if you have questions on the topics presented in this article.