July 4th Fireworks Safety: Experts Share Simple Tips for Hearing Protection

Fireworks and Firecrackers Can Cause Immediate, Permanent Hearing Loss If Children and Adults Don’t Use Caution, Says ASHA

June 27, 2023

(Rockville, MD) The booms, pops, and crackles of fireworks and firecrackers are signature sounds of the July 4th holiday, but according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), they could come at the high cost of irreversible hearing loss if people don’t take simple steps to protect themselves.

“There’s no doubt about it: Many of our favorite Independence Day traditions are exceedingly loud, and they can put our ears in real danger,” said Robert Augustine, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2023 ASHA President. “That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the holiday and all the fun it brings. It just means we need to take steps to minimize our risk, and luckily, it’s not that difficult to do so.”

Noise and Hearing Loss

Any exposure to excessively loud noise can cause a form of hearing loss called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Notably, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 billion young people ages 12–35 globally are at risk of NIHL due to recreational exposure to loud sounds. This type of hearing loss is preventable, but once it occurs, it is irreversible.

People can develop NIHL from attending loud events (e.g., concerts, sporting events); listening to personal technology devices for too loud and too long (especially with earbuds or headphones); participating in loud hobbies (e.g., playing an instrument, riding all-terrain vehicles); and/or working in a loud profession or industry (e.g., lawn care, restaurant/food service). The louder the noise, the less time it takes to damage one’s hearing. Sounds at 70 decibels or lower are generally safe to listen to for an extended period of time. Sounds at 80 decibels (for adults) or 75 decibels (for children) can lead to hearing loss if you listen to them for more than 8 hours at a time.

However, a single loud blast or explosion that lasts for less than 1 second can cause permanent hearing loss right away. This noise, called impulse noise or impact noise, can come from sources such as fireworks. Impulse noise is measured in decibel peak pressure, or dBP. Impulse noise greater than 140 dBP will hurt a person’s hearing right away. Fireworks at 3 feet, as well as firecrackers, can measure 150 dBP. This is considered painful to the ears—and is well beyond a safe listening level.

Hearing Protection Tips

By taking some simple precautionary steps, everyone can protect themselves. ASHA advises the following for the July 4th holiday—and any loud event.

  1. Wear hearing protection. Basic earplugs (available at drug stores and other retailers) offer good protection for most teens and adults. Children are generally better off wearing well-fitting earmuffs instead of earplugs.
  2. Keep a safe distance. Stand at least 500 feet away from noise sources, such as a fireworks launch site. The closer you are, the more likely you are to hurt your ears.
  3. Know your limits. If you are experiencing ringing in your ears or any other ear discomfort, leave the noisy situation. Listen to your body!

If a person continues to experience pain or ringing in their ears the next day, they should visit a certified audiologist. Learn more, and find a searchable database of audiologists nationwide, at www.asha.org/public.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 228,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders.

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